Inadequate funding: The big mess
Over 1,000 students in the state’s 18 districts became ill in government hostels and Basar IIIT over the last eight months. Insects, cockroaches, frogs and lizards were found in the food served for students in separate incidents reported in the state in recent months. More than 600 students at Basar IIIT became ill as a result of food poisoning on July 15, with the majority of them being girls.
During July and August, more food poisoning incidents were reported in the erstwhile Adilabad, Warangal, Khammam, and Medak districts because of contaminated water, unsanitary conditions in the mess, and the use of damaged vegetables, rotten eggs, and substandard or adulterated ingredients in government hostels and at Basar IIIT. During inspections, district officials found adulterated food items being used to cook food in Adilabad hostel kitchens.
On July 26, S. Sanjay Kiran, a second-year student at Basar IIIT of Elgururangampet village in Sangem mandal in Warangal rural district, died of ill health while receiving treatment at MGM hospital. Sanjay was suffering from gastroenterology-related health issues, which medical experts attribute to food containing toxic ingredients. His family spent Rs. 15 lakh on his treatment, but it was all in vain. His parents claimed that their son died as a result of health complications caused by food poisoning. Another Basar IIIT first-year student, Vignesh of Hanamkonda, became ill with food poisoning and has not fully recovered from his illness. Basar students have complained about poor quality food prepared in unsanitary conditions and with subpar ingredients. In a series of incidents, two students found a frog and a cockroach in their food. These incidents sparked a student-led campaign to improve campus conditions and appoint a permanent VC.
The reason for the rise in food poisoning is a lack of funding for the government’s midday meal programme. The state government provides Rs. 950 per month to each student in the fifth to seventh grades, and Rs.1,100 to students in the eighth to tenth grades. In addition, each student above intermediate is charged Rs.1,500 in government hostels.
In other words, the the state government is providing Rs. 2.28 lakh (240 students per head Rs. 950), `2.64 lakh (240 students per head Rs. 1,100), and Rs. 2.40 lakh (160 students per head Rs. 1,500) for three categories of students, totaling Rs. 7.32 lakh per student from Class 5 to Inter second year per month for one hostel with 640 students. The mess management’s residential staff must pay Rs. 1.15 lakh in catering charges, `6 per student per month, and Rs. 6,000 in rice transportation. The remaining Rs. 6.11 lakh should be adjusted for 640 students on purchasing provisions such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, chicken, mutton, and milk from suppliers who received tenders at prices set by the district purchase committee. After 2017-18, there was no increase in the fixed mess charges in the state, and the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities had an indirect impact on the quality of food served to students in the hostels. Tenders are being solicited for food supply in accordance with the existing mess charges norms. Contractors fail to supply high-quality food and instead use subpar and, in some cases, expired ingredients.
Previously, students were given 120 grams of chicken and 80 grams of mutton, but now only 80 grams of chicken and 40 grams of mutton are given to each student in the residential schools and colleges due to a lack of funds and no improvement of mess changes for the last four years. Anjeer, palli chikki, bread, milk and eggs, apples were given to students suffering from health issues. Due to a lack of funds, this food is no longer provided to students.
The heads of residential hostels claim that they were unable to purchase even half of the prescribed provisions for students with the money they received in 2007. Serving quality food to hostel students is only possible if the state government raises mess fees to reflect the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities over the last four years, said heads of several government-run educational institutions.