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The Mid Day Meal Tragedy In Bihar Has Opened The Pandora’s Box: Here’s All You Need To Know!

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By Neha Mayuri:

Smelling a conspiracy behind the unfortunate incident in Bihar, The Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has alleged that the BJP and the RJD had a “secret understanding” to fetch a political gain from the tragedy and implemented this “Conspiracy Theory.” BJP has joined RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav and LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan in Nitish bashing. Such is politics showing its myriad shades!

Bihar

However, the unfortunate death of 23 innocent children not only raises a lot of questions but also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. With India known as the largest democracy worldwide, this incident brings nothing short of shame and humiliation. It reveals the careless attitude towards human life in a democracy. This is not the first case, there have been numerous cases in the past and every time an unfortunate incident like this occurs, the blame game starts all over again. There are serious talks and heated debates about the failure and the loopholes in the system. Officials who have the responsibility of the success of Mid Day Meal Scheme are carefully following this matter, talking about not sparing the guilty and not tolerating carelessness.

Amidst all these talks, the much sought after question arises, what is Mid Day Meal? Mid Day Meal Scheme is a multi-faceted programme of the Indian Government which seeks to address issues of food security, lack of nutrition and access to education. According to the Indian Government, Mid Day Meal is the world’s largest school feeding programme, as it reaches out to about twelve crore children in over 1,265,000 schools and Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) centers across India.

But, with such a big scheme in place and Indian government spending a huge amount on it, what went wrong and what led to the unfortunate death of innocent children? Everyone is seeking answers.

But, the series of facts that follow are sure to raise eyebrows and a big question about “responsibility” “care” and “effective administration”! According to the forensic investigation tests conducted by the Bihar Police, traces of a pesticide were found in the fatal school meal. The forensic tests found that a pesticide “Monocrotophos” was found in the cooking oil that was used to prepare the meals! Monocrotophos is a lethal pesticide that belongs to a family of chemicals called organophosphates which share a common mechanism of toxic action. This lethal pesticide is used to controls a range of pests from aphids to caterpillars, mites, moths, stem borers and locusts on various crops such as cotton, rice and sugarcane.

It was due to the presence of this pesticide that the children fell ill within minutes of eating a meal of rice and potato curry in their one-room school. Vomiting and convulsing with stomach cramps was existent, experts say that these symptoms are common in poisoning with such a toxic chemical. These chemicals are lethal nerve poisons. The WHO states that swallowing just 120 milligrams (the weight of approximately five grains of rice) of this lethal pesticide “monocrotophos” can be fatal to humans! Ironically, the lethal chemical “is still widely used and easily available” in India.

United Nations Health Organization clearly made a request to the Indian government in the start of the year 2009, to ban this poisonous pesticide as there are tremendous health risks of this lethal chemical. There are countries such as Australia, Cambodia, China, the European Union, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States that have banned its use. Its import is illegal in at least 46 countries and countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka only allows Monocrotophos use for coconut cultivation only.

But the Indian government argues that if it’s properly managed, the advantages of this pesticide and several other lethal pesticides outweigh their disadvantages. Evidently, the government scientists are defending this pesticide and insisting that the decision not to ban it is pragmatic.

India is no stranger to the dangers of pesticides. A shocking report by the WHO cited a 2007 study which mentioned that about 76,000 people die each year in India from pesticide poisoning. The nation suffered the world’s worst industrial disaster when lethal gas leaked from a pesticide plant in the city of Bhopal in 1984, killing nearly 4,500 people. But, for India, providing more food to its people is a national priority. According to the World Bank, nearly 400 million people in the country live on less than $1.25 per day. Nearly half of its children under five are malnourished in the country.

Monocrotophos” is labelled hazardous by the World Health Organization and has fatal effects, despite of this fact, manufacturers in India have persuaded the government experts by stating the benefits of this lethal chemical. Generally, A 500 ml “Monocrotophos” bottle sold by a subsidiary of Godrej Industries is priced at Rs. 225, while an alternative, a bottle of 500 ml “Imidacloprid” costs Rs.1, 271.

History has it that India always appears reluctant to ban such pesticides. If we are to look at the facts, we’ll find that “Monocrotophos” isn’t the only toxic pesticide used in India. According to the WHO’s classifications, highly hazardous chemicals such as Phorate, Methyl Parathion, Bromadiolone and Phosphamidon, are registered for use as well.

Another lethal substance named “Endosulfan” is also being widely used nationwide. The media reports have stated that over 1,000 people were killed and hundreds were born deformed in the Kasargod district in Kerela because of indiscriminate aerial spraying of “Endosulfan.” The substance is so lethal that the United Nations wants it banned worldwide. Ironically, it was banned by The Supreme Court of India in the year 2011. Apparently, the decision came a few months after the chief minister of Kerala was on a day-long hunger fast to demand the ban of “Endosulfan”.

The government has issued 15 pages of regulations as well that need to be followed when handling pesticides — including wearing protective clothing and using a respirator when spraying. Pesticide containers should be broken when empty and not left outside in order to prevent them being re-used.

But in a nation where a quarter of the 1.2 billion population is illiterate, a country where vast numbers live in far-flung rural districts, implementation is almost impossible. For instance, “Monocrotophos” is banned for use on vegetable crops, but there is no way to ensure the rule is followed. Ironically, just few weeks before this unfortunate incident the government had advised farmers via a text message to make use of “monocrotophos” to kill pests.

However, the WHO officials firmly said the school tragedy reinforces the dangers of the pesticide. Now, one has to keenly observe and await Indian Governments’ stand on the use of this lethal chemical and its adverse effects on human lives.

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  1. K.B.Srivastava

    I had tweeted on 4th March, 2013 that “all kind of subsidies/grants of all departments provided to poor families in India should be transferred in cash in account of poor families.” Government of India has got food security ordinance,2013 issued and government itself is expecting that 80crore people of India (16crore poor families) will be benefited under food security ordinance. So, if amount of mid day meal had been transferred in accounts of 16crore poor families of India, no children could die due to mid day meal. If parents get money they can prepare delicious food for their children. Therefore, I request the Government again that all amount sanctioned under various schemes for welfare of poor families, should be transferred in accounts of 16crore poor families, so that amounts are not embezzled by the government employees. First of all moveable and immoveable properties and its present value and annual income of all citizens of India should be computerised ;so that search engine of computer can tell us, who is the richest person of India and who is poor If value of a house is 50 lacks, and house owner writes that value of his house is 25 lacks, his house should be purchased by the government at a price of Rs25lacs and if a person does not mention all his properties including farm land, cars and gold etc his undeclared property should be seized by the government. Since, freedom of India enough money to help poor are sanctioned by the government under different schemes each year, but due to leakage in system, poor families are getting nothing. Therefore all amount sanctioned under different schemes for welfare of poor should be transferred in accounts of 16crore poor families directly, otherwise due to leakage in system they will be getting nothing. But government should also not print notes or take loans from other countries or World Bank, otherwise inflation will go high. But to increase revenues, government should increase property tax. Some people have cars amounting to Rs50 lacks, but neither they pay any income tax nor property tax. I think if a person has a property of Rs5 lacks, he can sell that and he can deposit Rs5 lacks for 555days in a nationalised bank. Thus he can earn Rs4030/- per month as interest and if he is a labourer and gets job for 20 days in a month and get Rs200/- per day he can earn Rs4000/- per month as labourer+Rs4030/-as interest=Rs8030/- per month. In my opinion, if a person earn less than ‘Rs8000/- per month is really poor and government should transfer an amount of Rs3000/- per month as pension in accounts of poor families. If government transfer Rs3000/-per month to 16crore poor families an expenditure of Rs57.60kharab will incur each year. Government of India is expecting that revenue received in the financial year 2013-14 will be Rs166kharab. But if State Governments also add its share pension of Rs3000/- per month to 16crore poor families is possible,. Government does not levy any property tax up to Rs30 lacks, but if a person has only one house, property tax is not levied by the government and if a person has another house then he has to pay 1%. But in my opinion, there should be no property tax up to Rs30lacks. But above 30lacks to 1crore, it should be 5% and above 1crore, it should be 10%. Those house owners who have houses amounting more than toRs30lacks, should pay property taxes for a single house also. If government counts all properties including gold, jewellery, car, farm lands etc for purpose of property taxes, then revenue of government will certainly increase and I think that government should not sanction various schemes for welfare of poor, but government should transfer an amount of Rs3000/- in accounts of 16crore poor families and if possible government can increase the amount of pension more.So at last I have to say that if government want to increase revenue, it should increase property tax and if government want to win election it should transfer Rs3000/- per month to 16crore poor families. I think that poor families of India do not require Mid Day Meal for their children, but they require money, so that they can prepare delicious food for their school going children..

    1. Raj

      Dude stop with your crap already! I have been trying to explain to you why your ideas are bad and will cause more issues. You clearly don’t have any idea how economics works. Why not study a bit and give good suggestions?
      And what the hell is your obsession with property tax? WHy can’t everybody have a flat 5% tax rate? And don’t you understand that 5% on 1 crore is much lesser than 5% on 10 crores? So why have more tax rates since people will do everything to avoid it?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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