With the deadline of Feb 28th 2002 for introducing mid-day meals in half the districts in each state over, people took to streets across the country demanding the implementation of food related schemes. This was the first significant step for India's Right to Food Campaign. The action day also saw many groups getting together in the states to forming a local co-ordination committee. This has significantly boosted our local network.
Broadly the canvas of activities included:
Symbolic mid-day meal
The theme of the event, if one could be called so, is cooking of mid-day meal by the community in form of demonstration. This was organised in places from the village schools to the cubban park of Bangalore. Miller school of Patna saw the largest of its kind with 5000 students participating in it. In Bhopal, 400 students had their fill and demanded 'energetically' the implementation of the programme in front of the CMs residence. The simple symbolic event caught the attention of the press and also the polity. A very wide ranging coverage of the same was given in many a journal and newspaper. Children with placards and having a meal harmoniously was on the pages of innumerable regional newspapers. Outlook magazine and Hindu too carried the same.
Preparation of mid-day meal for children was done in strategic locations viz. in front of collector offices, other officials, etc. Chattisgarh had decided to do it in front of the CMs house, but it did not materialise with a permission being denied. Further, many schools in a large number of villages also did the same.
Demonstrations were held in all but one of the participating states. All these capitals of States had some action. PMG square of Bubanehwar saw a rally that had participation from all parts of the state. Miller School of Patna and the Town Hall of Ranchi saw a gathering of thousands of children. Children stood in the prominent MG road of Bangalore with empty plates asking for mid-day meals to be served in their schools. At the district level, in scores of places demonstrations were held in front of collector offices. Similarly Thesil headquarters, village schools all saw some action in most of the states.
One of the high points of the campaign was the media coverage. Press conferences were held in all the 9 states. In many of them, interaction of children with the press was arranged. The press conferences and the ensuing events had got very wide coverage in each of the regional languages. Among the national journals, Times of India, Hindu, Business world, Outlook among others carried articles about the campaign. On the electronic media side, STAR and AAJ TAK covered it nationally. Many regional channels including DD Oriya, E-Tv, etc. covered the event. BBC radio carried a 3-minute item on the morning of 9th about the event.
The Alternate Media
The event led to widespread discussion about the orders of the court by various sections of the community. Translation and distribution of the Supreme Court order was done extensively. The message about the entitlement reached a large section of the society that is normally out of the regular channels of information like the newspapers, etc. Locally organised meetings ensured that the participation by the local communities was high. This percolated the message further.
In Benoi in Rajasthan and Shankargarh in UP, public hearings were organised. These were centred around the dysfunctionality of various food schemes. The jan sunwai that followed the efforts of the village of Badama in making complaints and securing the co-operation of the PDS dealer. These resulted in debates on the problems in the system among the wider public.
Consultation with the government
This was another prominent feature of the campaign. In almost every state, there were consultations with the government on the mid-day meals issue. In Bihar, a team led by PUCL met the education minister to demand the immediate implementation of the mid-day meal programme. In Orissa, an appointment was sought with the CM, but they had to meet the Additional Secretary to the CM. They submitted a ten-point memorandum that the secretary promised to discuss with them in a specially called meeting. The date for the same was supposed to be fixed within a week. Unlike in other states, our Jharkhand team managed to get a senior member of the ruling party to the event of April 9. The chief whip of BJP presided the meeting where children demanded the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme in their schools. He promised to take question up very soon. The process of meeting the officials and politicians on this question was also taken up at the district levels. Many of them even participated in our events on April 9. Reactions from them were fairly positive. Most of them promised to do something about this. Interestingly some of them expressed ignorance about the Supreme Court order. The Thesildar that people from Jalon met told them that he would do his best but also told them that he had not got any order to that effect from the district administration. A collector in Karnataka grew quite angry at our demonstration and told our group 'the government is going to implement the scheme from June, I don't know why you NGOs are making such noise!' When many others promised to do things, only in Bihar did the Minister say that he cannot promise anything. Kudos to the straightforward man.