Tejaswini Ananth Kumar
Tejaswini Ananth Kumar

Karnataka BJP leader draws flak for opposing eggs in mid-day meals

On July 19, the Karnataka state government issued an order mandating the supply of eggs, bananas and chikkis with mid-day meals in schools of all districts in Karnataka.

Tejaswini Ananth Kumar, Chairman and founder of Adamya Chetana, which supplies mid-day meals to children in and around Bengaluru, has come under fire for her tweet regarding the addition of eggs in mid-day meals. In a tweet posted on August 1, Tejaswini said giving eggs to children in mid-day meals was exclusionary to vegetarian students and that policies should be designed in such a way that every student has an equal opportunity.

Facing a barrage of criticism, where people pointed out that children could choose between eggs, bananas or chikkis, Tejaswini attempted to defend herself in a tweet thread where she said that food given to students should not be a political statement and should be such that all students should consume it. “I am not against eggs. But if you think eggs will solve mal-nutrition that is very wrong. We need to do more to solve that problem. Good sources of fats, proteins, vitamins and carbs have to be provided to children from native millets, local fruits, vegetables, nuts and oils. This is a lazy policy move,” she declared.

Recently, the state BJP government agreed to supply eggs as part of mid-day meals in schools, along with bananas and chikkis for 46 school days a year, despite opposition from some religious heads. While there has been overwhelming support for the supply of eggs to children to tackle malnutrition and absenteeism in schools, a section of BJP leaders too have tacitly opposed the inclusion of eggs in mid-day meals. Tejaswini, wife of late Bengaluru South MP Ananth Kumar, is one of the vice presidents of state BJP unit and her organisation Adamya Chetana is presently providing mid-day meals to two lakh children in Bengaluru urban and rural areas.

“First of all politicians should not be talking like experts about nutrition. Secondly non-discrimination doesn't mean those who eat eggs should be made to give it up. That is food imposition, especially when more than 95% children are from Dalit, Adivasi and OBC communities that enjoy eggs. Thirdly, this person clearly has no knowledge of the nutrient benefits of eggs and it is dangerous that such ill-informed and prejudiced people are being given so much attention and media space. Egg has the best protein and is easily digestible. Any food given to children can be spoiled and of poor quality, if there is no political will and oversight,” said Dr Sylvia Karpagam who is a public health doctor and researcher working on Right to Nutrition and Health, particularly of marginalised communities.

According to a study commissioned by the Karnataka government, a pilot project that introduced eggs in midday meals in seven districts received overwhelmingly positive response. The study was carried out for 100 days in Gadag and Yadgir on 4,500 students in Classes 1 to 8. While students in Gadag did not receive eggs, those in Yadgir received them. It resulted in weight gain and BMI improvement among students of Yadgir, compared to students in Gadag. The study also said that only 4.5% of the girls and 4.1% of the boys in Yadgir district chose bananas over eggs. “As per NFSA, caste, religion and ideology should not be brought into the schemes. It should be based on sound nutrition science and as per science egg is a nutritionally superior food. Lentils have less bioavailability and digestibility than eggs,” Dr Sylvia Karpagam added.

The pilot scheme was implemented in 2021 for 46 days in seven districts in Karnataka, which are Bidar, Ballari (including Vijayanagara), Kalaburagi, Raichur, Koppal, Yadgir and Vijayapura. The programme was carried out as a part of the PM's Poshan Shakti Nirman Yojana (midday meal) project's "Flexibility for Innovative Intervention." On July 19, the Additional Secretary to the Finance Department authorised the extension of the programme to the entire state and its renewal in the initial eight districts. The cost of the eggs, bananas, or chikkis per student, per day, would be Rs 6.

The tweet by Tejaswini Ananth Kumar, comes following the state government order dated July 19, 2022, allowing government and government aided schools across Karnataka to provide eggs to students who eat them. Students have the option of choosing between eggs, bananas and peanut chikkis. 

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