Patna: Despite facing nationwide criticism over death of 23 children after having the midday meal last year, Bihar now secured the fifth position among best performing states.
Claiming Bihar made strides in providing midday meal, state Education minister P K Shahi said as per assessment by Central agencies, "We are in the fifth position among best performing states in midday meal scheme for school children."
Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Tripura were ahead of Bihar.
The rank is given on assessing indices like coverage, hot meal and nutritional value of food served, the minister said talking on the sidelines of "Janata ke Darbar mein Mukhya Mantri" programme at CM`S residence yesterday.
Shahi, accompanied by Principal Secretary Education Amarjeet Sinha, said for Bihar - which used to figure at the bottom of the ranking - moving to the fifth position was a big achievement which came due to emphasis given by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
The death of 23 children after eating midday meal in a primary school in Gandaman village of Saran district in June last year in Bihar had triggered nationwide outrage.
The minister said in a new initiative, the state has launched Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) developed by an IT company with the scheme`s website www.Dopahar.Org for daily details of implementation of midday meal provided by principal of schools across the state.
"Anybody can have a look at details through a click of mouse," Shahi said.
"The website has attracted many a states to emulate the experiment," he said proudly.
The site comprises details like number of children, how many of them served food and menu among others, Shahi said.
The minister said that though the daily details on the website show almost 95 per cent coverage of children under the scheme but the department instead of blindly relying on them also cross-check the facts through random inspection of schools.
Shahi lamented lower fixation of rate by the Centre for the midday meal scheme and demanded a substantive hike.
At present the Centre is paying Rs 3.67 per child under midday meal scheme for students from class I to V and Rs 5 each for those in class VII and VIII.
"The meagre amount covers expenses of rice, vegetable, pepper, fuel, salt and pulses to be provided to every eligible child whose prices are soaring everyday," he said.
Shahi said in several meetings he has advocated that considering price level, the amount should be enhanced to Rs 6 per child from class I to V and Rs 10 each for those for students of class VII and VIII.
The Bihar minister said that taking lessons from the Gandaman school tragedy, the state government has broadbased the school committee to 17 members to monitor quality of food served to children under the scheme.
The committee headed by ward counsellor of the area has many women whose wards are studying in that particular school as members, he said adding due to overwhelming presence of women these committees are popularly known as "mata (mother) committee".
He said the state government is in the process of recruiting 67,000 woman cooks at a monthly payment of Rs 1000 to keep teachers away from task of preparing food.
The cooks recruited by committees have been told to give preference to those hailing from SC/ST and OBC castes, he added.
A sum of Rs 100 crore has been released for constructing kitchen sheds in schools for cooking midday meal food, the minister said.