Pune: 22 children, headmistress rushed to hospital after eating mid-day meal

Students admitted at Bharati hospital on Wednesday. Ashish Kale

Twenty-two students of the Rhambhau Mhalgi trust-run school in Katraj and its headmistress were admitted to hospital with vomiting and loose motion after eating khichdi served as mid-day meal.

The students, from Class VIII to X, and headmistress Sampada Kirkole were admitted to Bharati Hospital in Katraj. Dr Sanjay Lalwani, medical director at the hospital, said four children were admitted in the paediatric ward, one of whom was in ICU as the child suffered dehydration from severe vomiting. The rest were treated in the out patient department and were stable. They had vomiting and loose motion, and it seems a case of food poisoning, Dr Lalwani said.

Kirkole said that the khichdi arrived at the school at 8.45 am. Around 9 am, I had some of it to ensure it was okay and the food was served around 9.30 am. Soon after, I was told that two children had vomited. I was on the third floor and rushed down, only to find more children taking ill. Even I fell sick. The trustee of the school immediately decided to send the children to Bharati hospital, she said.

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) team collected samples of the khichdi for testing, while issuing stop work orders to the Rajmi Mahila Vividh Karyakari Sanstha Maryadit, which supplies mid-day meals to 9,600 students across 23 schools.

Explained

Need to strictly implement laws

The issue of children being served poor quality meals in schools has time and again been raised with little effect. Agencies supplying the meals have to meet deadlines which may affect quality of food. Chances of contamination are high when there is no check on how the food is prepared. In this case, the FDA team found flies and food prepared in unhygienic surroundings. Activists claim that at times these incidents were an outcome of the massive gap between resources provided by the government and quality of work. However, with lives of children at stake, there is a need to strictly implement the Food Safety and Standards Act to protect and promote public health.

Sanjay Shinde, Assistant Commissioner, FDA (Pune), who visited the sanstha s main kitchen at Anant Teerth Cooperative Housing Society in Kondhwa, said the 2,000 sqft place didn t have packed windows due to which there were several flies inside. The agency has a licence to operate but there was no qualified (diploma or degree holder) expert to supervise the work. Food safety officer Ramakant Kulkarni also found the place dirty. We have issued stop work orders till they meet hygiene and cleanliness standards, Shinde said.

Assistant inspector Shrishail S Chiwadshetty of Bharti Vidyapeeth police station said, Samples of the food have been collected by FDA officials. Based on the findings, there will be a probe into possible negligence on the part of the entity running the kitchen and also the school. If the probe reveals negligence, legal action may be initiated.

The Poshan Aahar Seva Sanghatana condemned the incident. We demand strong legal action against PMC officials and employees responsible for awarding contracts to organisations that do not have either the capacity or capability to prepare these meals of required standards, said Sham Sasane, president of the district unit of the sanghatana.

Kiran Moghe, secretary, said that such incidents were happening regularly in Maharashtra and across the country. The central kitchen system proposed by the government is unable to provide food as per norms of the mid-day meal scheme, he added. We hope this incident will force the government to reconsider its decision.

Despite the fact that women Self Help Groups (SHGs) have consistently and diligently provided mid-day meals to schools for the last several years, certain employees and officials in the PMC have colluded to take away their work and awarded it to large contractors, it said in a statement, adding that conditions set by the government and the PMC (Rs 40 lakh turnover, Rs 15 lakh deposit and 2,000 sqft area) have kept SHGs out of the process.

The PMC should cancel these contracts and blacklist these organisations before more harm is done to children. We demand that the work should once again be awarded to SHGs, the statement added.