The issue began on 1 September when Education Minister Geetashri Oraon wrote to Mr Soren suggesting an all-Jharkhand tender for the centralised distribution of eggs. The tender would result in replacing Saraswati Vahini, a group of women that prepares these meals for children, and in-charge of buying eggs locally for this purpose. Sources say that the education minister acted under the influence of a contractor linked to the Congress Party.
However, on consulting some officials in the Education Department, the Chief Minster decided to stick to the initial arrangement of the Saraswati Vahinis buying eggs locally. The officials argued that a centralized system of distribution would run contrary to the Supreme Court’s directives on child nutrition programmes. They also added that local distribution of eggs would only generate more employment for the village women, thus benefitting them and their families.
Following this advice, the matter went back to the Cabinet on 10 September. However, the same was postponed citing that it had not been submitted in the correct format.
We’re not alien to how food contractors have tried to attack India’s midday meal programme. A few years ago, a biscuit manufacturers’ association almost succeeded in persuading the Central Government to replace cooked meals with biscuits.
More recently, Pepsi is reported to have expressed interest in supplying ready-to-eat items for school meals.
It is hoped that the six million pairs of hungry children’s eyes – all on the next Cabinet meeting – lead to something concrete.