New Delhi: The controversy around including eggs in mid-day meals has resurfaced once again, with the Maharashtra government amending a government resolution (GR) that mandated students in the state be served eggs once a week.
The move comes in wake of opposition from religious outfits like the Shree Mumbai Jain Sangh Sangathan (SMJSS), an organisation representing the city’s Jain community, and members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spiritual cell, Midday reported.
The earlier version of the GR allowed parents to choose if they wanted their child to be served eggs or opt for bananas as a substitute. However, the amended GR has revoked the option to choose between vegetarian and non-vegetarian meal options. Now, eggs will not be served to anyone in a school if 40% of the students there do not consent to consuming them.
The GR also specifies that schools receiving meals from Akshaya Patra and Annamrita Foundation, charities affiliated with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), will be exempted from serving eggs, the report said.
The mid-day meal scheme provides nutritious food to around two crore students studying in government-run schools. In a bid to improve the students’ diet, it was decided that instead of just khichdi, they would be served egg pulao, biryani, sweets, vegetables and fruits. This was the first time in 20 years that the school education department had decided to reintroduce eggs to the mid-day meal menu, the report said.
However, after a presentation was given to chief minister Eknath Shinde and school education minister Deepak Kesarkar by the trustees and members of SMJSS on January 5, the government issued a fresh GR on January 24.
Virag Shah from SMJSS said, “During the presentation, we highlighted that under the new mid-day meal plan, approximately four crore chicks per month and at least 36 crore chicks per year (excluding the vacation period) would be sacrificed for egg production. Now, as a result of the changes in the notification, nearly 2.25 crore and 20 crore chicks per month and year respectively will be spared.”
The religious group further alleged that inclusion of eggs in the mid-day meal scheme was designed to benefit the poultry industry. “There is no demand for eggs from any of the stakeholders. The state’s intention to support the poultry farmers will prove futile. The scheme will impose a huge economic burden on the state,” it said, without explaining why or how it would prove to be an economic burden.
“The PM POSHAN scheme does not recommend eggs in its entire scheme. It advocates culturally accepted food. In Maharashtra, where the vegetarian population is 40%, eggs cannot be called culturally accepted food,” the outfit claimed.
The principal of a BMC school in south Mumbai said that the GR made it very clear that no one was going to be forced to eat eggs. “It was decided that students at government-run and aided students would get an egg a week, either boiled or as part of other preparations such as pulao or biryani, while vegetarian students and those who don’t want the eggs would be served fruits. It was clear and nobody was going to be forced to eat eggs. These objections and the amendments made to the GR are illogical. My domestic help’s daughter studies at a BMC school. They prefer eggs. Just because 40% of students/parents vote against eggs, she wouldn’t get eggs with her meal. How is that fair?” the principal asked.
Criticising the restriction, Prasad Gokhale, a parent and convenor of Marathi Shala Aaapan Tikavlya Pajihet, a parents’ awareness group, said, “We are vegetarians, and would not prefer eggs in the meal. However, just because we don’t, we cannot make others follow our preferences. Many dieticians and nutritionists recommend eggs, citing health benefits. Instead of relying on religious groups, the state government should have relied on experts to make these changes. This new kind of discrimination has now become a trend. I disagree with these amendments.”
Doctors and nutritionists have time and again pointed out that eggs are an important source of protein in the Indian diet that is otherwise high in carbohydrates.“Eggs offer significant nutritional value as they provide high-quality protein. While it’s possible to replace them with plant-based proteins, such alternatives may be costly and impractical. A single egg can easily fulfil a child’s daily protein requirements,” Dr Hema Yadav said.
Rights activists, including those involved in the Right to Food Campaign, have also pointed out why serving eggs to children is important under the midday meal scheme. “One must recognize that the problem is not just the absence of eggs from the menu at schools and anganwadis. The menu lacks diversity in the form of milk, dairy, vegetables, fats/oils, pulses and legumes in many of the States. The prevalence of nutritional deficiency, stunting, underweight and other kinds of health issues is higher in the children belonging to marginalized communities. Due to the vicious combination of malnutrition and illness, the children and families of these communities are the most vulnerable without the intervention of the state. Eggs in these scenarios can tilt the nutritional status of a child and would help gaining essential nutrients in fighting malnutrition and ill health conditions. Eggs provide many of the nutritional needs including good quality proteins, minerals, vitamins and fats. They are easy to cook, not prone to adulteration and pilferage like other foods and contribute to increasing school attendance,” the Campaign had said in 2021 press release.