Bengaluru: Millions of school children around the country get a hot and freshly cooked meal, thanks to the Akshaya Patra Foundation’s mid-day meal programme. The programme, funded by the state and central government, and private donors began in the year 2000 in Bengaluru with feeding about 1500 children. Today, it has grown to the stage where 1.8 million children are getting meals every single school day. The food is prepared in 51 kitchens across 12 States and 2 Union Territories of India. Akshaya Patra implements the government’s mid-day meal programme in 16,856 schools of the country, with plans to increase that number to hundreds more.
The cleanliness of the whole food preparing and servicing process is of course vitally important to keep the children safe and healthy. NDTV visited the original kitchen in the premises of the ISKCON temple, where we met Madhu Pandit Dasa, Chairperson of the Akshaya Patra Foundation – and several school children who have also come to see how their, as well as millions of children’s lunch is prepared.
To enter the kitchen we had to put on hairnets and a mask and remove our footwear to use slippers that were profited to us. These measures were taken to maintain the hygiene levels of the kitchen with its gleaming stainless steel.
Madhu Pandit Dasa told us,
One of the most important things, a speciality of Akshaya Patra, is the cleanliness achieved through technology. The technology is used for scaling. This particular kitchen prepares about one lakh meals in 4 hours. Which means you can’t have a human touch in terms of hygiene. Everything is planned in such a way that the hygiene standard is high. Cleanliness like this does cost. With the kitchens being centralised to move the food from one place to another also costs extra. Good safety costs extra. But all this is necessary for children.
NDTV also spoke to the children about their thoughts on meals they were provided. Apsara from the Government High School in Bengaluru’s Peenya said,
The food is very tasty. I like the anna (rice) and rasam. It is nice and tasty and very clean.
The children also shared their opinion on the importance of cleanliness, as an 8th standard student, Govardhan K, told NDTV,
Before going to have our food, we always wash our hands.
His classmate, Navyashree, explained,
If we are clean, we can be healthy and away from diseases.
Peenya student, Spandana summed up the lunch experience.
It is very clean, hygienic, nutritious and delicious. Bisi bele Bath is my favourite!
Mr. Dasa said,
I feel so much satisfaction when I see these children are supported in their education by giving them a full midday meal.
Akshaya Patra has also launched the ‘Swachh Vidyarthi, Swach Vidyalaya, Swachh Gruha’ scheme to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of a clean India and to further the Government of India’s cleanliness programmes. An electrician signboard outside the ISKCON temple in Bengaluru updates constantly on the cumulative number of meals served once the years which has now crossed 3 billion and counting!