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9-min read

Need more people to monitor mid-day meal scheme: Chanchalapathi Dasa

Akshaya Patra Foundation's Chanchalapathi Dasa on the challenge of providing hygienic and nutritious mid-day meals.


Updated:July 18, 2013, 4:46 PM IST
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Need more people to monitor mid-day meal scheme: Chanchalapathi Dasa
Akshaya Patra Foundation's Chanchalapathi Dasa on the challenge of providing hygienic and nutritious mid-day meals.

Akshaya Patra is the Indian government's largest non-governmental partner, running 17 state-of-the-art kitchens across eight states and delivering hot meals to more than 1.26 million school children every day in insulated and dust-free delivery vans. Akshaya Patra Foundation's vice-chairman Chanchalapathi Dasa joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on the challenge of providing hygienic and nutritious mid-day meals.

Q. The govt seems to have been waiting for such a big mishap to happen.The food quality of midday meals was always a cause for great concern but who could open the eyes of someone who can already see. Don't you think that the govt should give this noble job to real noble people and organisations like yours who do actually care for people? Asked by: soumitra

A. Yes and no. Yes the NGOs can do a good job with a heart. But the scale is too big for NGOs to alone handle. We are a very very large country. feeding 120 million children in the country is not easy. NGOs can create inspiring models. innovative models. But it will be Govt's task to handle this big no.

Q. Sir, It seems the problem lies in executing the strategy than the intention. No body opposes the intention. But, the surprise is , if we take district as an entity, is it impossible to find the number of schools coming under the ambit of mid-day meal scheme. Is it difficult to get five of the kids mothers to form a SHG and run this scheme at least they will not give bad food to their kids. Is it impossible for one member of the Education department to have food with the kids, at least once in a month. What is the Education officer, DEO, Panchayat Officer, doing daily, why can't the collector have food with the kids, let the MLA, MP... go and visit these schools and have lunch, In corporates, where the Managing Director has food in the same canteen with other workmen have, the quality improves without having to do much. India has many schemes with good intention, where we are failing is execution. Asked by: S ESHWAR

A. You are absolutely right. All your suggestions are valid. As you say, execution is the challenge.

Q. Do we have any watchdog department to keep an eye on standards of food, stocking, vessels, hygiene etc to monitor and report back to concerned authority? Asked by: vimlesh

A. The Govt has. But it is inadequate, as the recent tragedy has revealed. Feeding 120 million children in 12 lakh schools requires a huge monitoring network. I think the govt and everyone else are realizing this now.

Q. Akshaya Patra is a wonderful program, a model to be emulated by other NGOs and charity organizations. Is the cuisine for Akshaya Patra same/similar as in the ISKCON restaurants like Hare Krishna Food for Live in Auckland NZ (no onion and garlic etc.)? Asked by: Shyam

A. Replied already please.

Q. If the government can't implement the midday meal programme properly, why can't they outsource to organizations like yours. At least they can do this. Asked by: Abhiram

A. Yes and no. The task of feeding 120 million kids is gigantic. Unprecedented in the world. NGOs also have limitation. NGOs can create inspiring models, Benchmark standards. Govt has to do the large volume of the task.

Q. What will be the impact of Food security bill on the various noon meal schemes in operation now? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. Replied already please.

Q. Apart from providing food has Akshaya Patra conducted Health checks on their beneficiaries? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. We have done occasionally, but not comprehensively. We have done as part of certain impact assessments. We are focused on feeding.

Q. Are the People engaged in Akshaya Patra Volunteers? Should all mid day meals schemes be handed over to voluntary organisations or NGO's for better handling? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. No, not all are volunteers. Only the very top people are volunteers. The rest of the people are employees. we currently have about 4000 employees all over India.

Q. Has traffic congestion of Cities hampered timely delivery of food to the kids? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. It has not hampered, but created a huge challenge which we keep addressing in our logistics management.

Q. Why not staffs of primary school be involved compulsorily as part of their teaching profession to take care noon-meal scheme activity too on rotation basis? And it should be made mandatory that an assigned caretaker on rotation basis to sit with students to have mid-day meal. Asked by: Gopi

A. In fact they are right now. The Head Master is responsible in every school. But that causes many challenges. The HM apart from his academic duties has to pay attention to the meal program. The HMs have told us, "We have enough academic pressures, to ensure the portions are completed, tests are conducted, etc. Over and above that we have to ensure chilies, salt, brinjal is there in the kitchen!!" It distracts then from non-academic work.

Q. After Boston blast prime minister seemed very concerned and gave his condolences but when many innocent lives of children are taken under his nose, he is nowhere, not coming forward to utter a word. Isn't that a great concern for our nation where we discriminate ourselves? Asked by: vimlesh

A. I have not closely watched if he has done or not. But I am sure he is feeling terrible as every conscientious leader should be feeling. And planning how to improve. The MHRD minister under whom this comes has offered profuse condolences, and i am sure will come up with very serious measures to improve the program.

Q. I feel that the government is serious in providing food and the children do receive it - these lapses occur mid-way through the chain. Now who decides on who occupies this middle role and who verifies their credentials? I have seen instances when rice is siphoned off and sold elsewhere - I guess this is the problem. YOur views please. Asked by: srikanth

A. You are right, it is the mid level operation management that is a huge challenge. In todays world, apart from appealing to the good sense of people, stringent checks and balances, oversight, stricter enforcement of the rules - are the only solution. NGOs can play a good role. They can augment the efforts of the Govt. The civic society participation can help to monitor who come with single agenda of doing good to the children. But to translate all these into action plans that happens day after day is a huge challenge.

Q. If you had to make one suggestion to the govt to prevent such an incident from happening again what would it be? Asked by: c4conscience

A. MDM has been over simplified. It is not merely converting raw materials to meals by simple women and feeding children. Cooking for 5 to 8 people at home is hugely different from cooking for 100 or 200 children. The skill set, hygiene control, storage, all of these are very different. The training, supervision, audit - all has to improve with more money, people resources, etc. This large program needs a huge workforce of necessary competence to monitor it. This can be seen as an opportunity to create a huge workforce int he country - Food safety trainers, auditors, supervisors, etc. This can generate a new stream of profession. A huge employment generating opportunity which is very essential to run this program. Now doctors are part and parcel of the society. CAs are. In the same way our country has a need for a huge number of Food safety professionals.

Q. What is more important? Feeding children or enabling their parents to earn a decent livelyhood to feed their own children? Asked by: Prasanna

A. Both have merits. But the emphasis should be feeding and educating children. This will transform the future.

Q. Why not a centralized community kitchen for a group of school be set up by Women's Self Help Group to provide food packets to children than current set up? This would be efficient and can be used for general public during natural calamities. Asked by: Gopi

A. Replied.

Q. Are there plans of extending the Rajasthan model (decentralized kitchens) in other areas? If some local enthusiasts need help in setting up such plans in their areas, what help can they expect from ISKCON/Akshaya Patra? Asked by: Shyam

A. Akshaya Patra has an open book policy of willing to share, experience and train any NGO who wants to take up the program. we are ready to freely share all our experience, kitchen designs, vendor lists, equipment options, etc. And we have had the good fortune of inspiring and initiating a few more NGOs. But more needs to be done for our country.

Q. Is Akshaya Patra an ISKCON affiliate? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. Answered.

Q. What are the important safety steps at Akshaya Patra, which is mandatory before delivering food to the centres? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. Food Safety practices in Akshaya Patra Food safety is a high priority area in our minds. - we have systems and process in place in compliance with ISO22000 ( Food Safety Management System ) standards. Eleven out of 17 kitchens are ISO 22000 certified by DNV. - We have a FSTL ( Food Safety Team Leader ) in every ISO certified kitchens. Most of them are with Bachelors Degree in Food Technology. In all other kitchens Sr.Quality officer assumes the responsibility of FSTL. His main duty is to ensure the all the systems and processes are effective in ensuring the Safe Food for our consumers/customers ( School Children ) - We have GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) implemented across all kitchens led by FSTLs. It has about 250 check points and monthly internal audits are being done by FSTL from other kitchens, to avoid any bias. This is being done on monthly basis and consolidated and reported. (I will share separately the monthly reports/emails "Key Quality Metrics Performance" ). Also people from Head Office conducts surprise audits as required. - GMP covers Best Personal Hygiene Practices, Best Pest Control Practices, Best Storage Practices, Best Production Practices , Best Vehicle Hygiene Practices etc., - >95 percent of our staff are trained in GMP practices and requirements in all the kitchens - Our comprehensive methodology of food safety starts from the supplier where we follow SQM (Supplier Quality Management) Process which covers sub processes like Supplier Selection, Supplier Qualification, Supplier Rating, etc. which will ensure that we work with the right and best supplier who are aligned with our organization. - followed by we have a QC process which ensures we accept only the right and good quality product at in coming stage itself. - followed by our Stores Best Practices process ensures we store and consume the product in a right way ( FIFO- Fist In First Out / FILO - First In Last Out/ FEFO- First Expiry First Out etc., ) - Quality Metrics like - Food Quality Index, Incoming Lot Acceptance percentage, Best Stores Practices, Production Process Compliance etc., will indicate how our processes are performing so that we take CAs (Corrective Actions) immediately as appropriate and improve the performance continuously. - we have periodic employment engagement programs where we emphasize the importance of importance of food safety. These some key things we do to ensure Safety of Food.

Q. Amongst the various states you are in operation which one has the best delivery record? Are all states extending similar support? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. In all states, our experience with the government departments is good. There are a few places the village leaders - not everywhere but only in some places - we face problems. By and large, it is good.

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