Who will bell the cat

The midday meal programme could have been a boon for India's children just as ICDS should have been. But Alas, though the programme was conceived impeccably the implementation and the monitoring was left in the itchy hands of the corrupt or as maybe, and apologies if it sounds cynical, its failure was seeded in its implementation as is the view of an activist who quips, "Perhaps the government does not want the scheme to function properly. They want problems to be created so that people ask them to stop the scheme altogether. Maybe they want to hand over the scheme to some corporate organisation". It is tragic that 23 children had to lose their lives for the scheme to be exposed.

I agree with this view as it is one that is evident in many so called social programmes. Let us take education which is now a constitutional right. If every child was truly educated the profile of India would be transformed to the detriment of the political masters. Yet they want to look good to the world so after 6 decades of Independence they finally vote a Right to Education bill that defies all logic. Free education is from 6 to 14. What happens before 6 and post 14. An enigma. The pass percentage is as low as 33%. Looks good as statistics but does not get you anywhere. Then instead of sprucing their schools that stand on prime land but are often dilapidated, they come up with a 25% reservation for 'poor' children, setting criteria that allow access to middle class kids whose parents are willing to take some not so honest shortcuts. I state this with responsibility as I have witnessed it. So the idea that the state does not want the midday meal to work makes sense. Just as they rushed privatisation of education, they would be too happy to hand over the midday meal to corporates. Feeding 1. million kids makes good business sense. What one forgets was that when the scheme had been thought of, the idea was to have mothers and the community cook this meal! But surreptitiously things mutated to enable corrupt individuals to get their pound of flesh. Mothers mutated into NGOs often set up by interested parties or private contractors. Quality went for a free fall and nutrition too. Insects and lizards, worms and ultimately pesticides that resulted in the death of children.

The situation is terrible. Portions are insufficient. Conditions unhygienic. Utensils dirty. The list is endless. The reality is that no one cares for the children who are treated like a burden. No one is really interested in their well being and proper nutrition. The monitoring is on existent.

When after the terrible incident of Chappra, teachers were asked to taste the food, they went up in arms and even suggested that it be 'tasted' by street dogs. Though this was promptly shot down, it shows the attitude teachers have towards poor children. According to me teachers and students should partake of the midday meal together! Maybe that would change things.

What all this shows is the inability, intended or real, of the State to implement and monitor any social programme. All they excel at is formulating and drafting more and more of the same to gain political support that translate into votes.

The question is who will or rather can bell the cat