• Loading

PACS statement

18 July 2013 - Christian Aid responds to reports that an outbreak of food poisoning at a school in the Indian state of Bihar involved food provided under a free meal scheme monitored by the UK Government under its Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme (PACS) scheme in India.

Christian Aid offers profound commiserations to all those affected by an outbreak of food poisoning at a school in the Indian state of Bihar - particularly the families of schoolchildren who have died, and those children still fighting for life.

Media reports have suggested that the tragedy involved food provided under a free meal scheme monitored by the UK Government under its Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme (PACS) scheme in India.

Christian Aid manages the PACS scheme in India on behalf of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

While we fully share the heartfelt concern at what occurred in India’s poorest state, the media reports are incorrect in that the school involved was not covered by the PACS programme.

The £31 million programme, which started in 2009 and runs until March 2016, aims to support some eight million socially excluded people in the poorest parts of the country through some 90 civil society organisations.
 
Despite India’s recent economic growth, one in four of the world’s hungry lives there. Malnutrition among children in some areas is running at a higher rate than in sub Saharan Africa. Almost half the children under the age of five suffer from stunting, while more than 40 per cent of children and 30 per cent of women are under weight.

The Midday Meal Scheme, which reaches 120 million children in more than 125,000 schools and nutrition centres nationwide, aims to meet two fundamental provisions of the country’s constitution, the right to food and the right to education.

It is one of a range of poverty-alleviation initiatives launched in the last decade by the Indian Government.

Such measures, however, do not always benefit those who need them most, with Dalits – who exist outside the caste system – and tribal communities faring particularly badly.

Local organisations, supported by PACS, help such marginalised groups understand their rights and claim their entitlements, particularly in relation to healthcare, education and employment.

The availability of a cooked school meal under the Midday Meal Scheme has reduced the school drop-out rate in poor communities, especially among marginalised communities.

However, the only PACS supported organisation in Saran, Bihar state - the district where the school deaths occurred - is engaged in job creation rather than education.

PACS director Rajan Khosla said: ‘In districts where PACS funded organisations are involved in ensuring entitlements under the Right to Education Act, their main function is in getting members of the local community to play an active part in school management committees. These committees have to include parents from poor communities, alongside the schoolteachers and management for observing various entitlements under the Act.

‘In terms of the Midday Meal Scheme, they would want to ensure the meals are available to all pupils, without discrimination, and are of the correct nutritional value. But there was no PACS involvement in the running or monitoring of the school where the tragedy occurred.’

Christian Aid was chosen by DFID to manage PACS because of our decades of experience of working with local partner organisations in poor countries. Part of our remit is to build the skills of the Indian organisations receiving UK Government money and to ensure that they are accountable for how they spend it.

The PACS programme recently underwent the DFID annual review and scored A+ for exceeding deliverables.