MUMBAI: The economic slowdown has kicked many in the stomach, but few as directly as the Midday Meal Project in Mumbai. That's what one of the providers, the ISKCON Food Relief Foundation (FRF), is figuring out the hard way.
More than one lakh [100,000] Mumbai kids are fed meals as part of this scheme. While social organisations such as ISKCON assist in the cooking and distribution of meals, actual funding comes in from the BMC and various corporates. The BMC has pleaded lack of funds and owes ISKCON Rs 2 crore as cooking charge. Corporate sponsors are backing out on the grounds that in tough times charity is put on the back burner.
ISKCON is the largest of 244 social organisations who provide meals to municipal school students as part of the government scheme. For the last five years, nearly 176,000 students across Maharashtra have been served piping hot khichdi, of which more than one lakh are in Mumbai. The idea, says FRF director Radha Krishna Das, is to provide poor children with a tasty meal so that parents are encouraged to send them to school.
While the Union government accounts for half the price of a meal for each child in terms of providing raw rice, the cooking charge of Rs 1.75 is provided by the state government via the BMC. But because ISKCON uses quality ingredients like pure ghee, daal, vegetables and has sophisticated kitchens, the cost is hiked by another Rs 1.75. Each meal therefore costs Rs 3.50. The extra cost is borne by the NGO's sponsors, says Das. "But because of the huge backlog in payment from the BMC, we have to ask donors to fund the entire Rs 3.5 per meal," he says.
ISKCON kitchens at Tardeo and Mira Road are top-notch: steam stoves, stainless steel containers, high-speed potato peelers, conveyer belts, giant refrigerators to store veggies, huge cans of pure ghee and separate storage, preparation, cooking and cleaning rooms. The lentils are varied to introduce variety. "The meals are delivered in tamper-proof sealed containers with serving spoons to ensure safe and hygienic delivery. But now it is getting tough for us to sustain because the government is not clearing bills and the corporate sponsors are also thinking twice," says Das.
Additional municipal commissioner Madhav Sangle says the issue maybe resolved soon. He says the standing committee has already passed a resolution to settle outstanding bills. "The bills will be cleared very soon. We could not clear them earlier because we were waiting for the sanction from the standing committee," he says.