A popular childhood jingle — Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande (be it Sunday or Monday, eat an egg daily) — has been relegated to nostalgia. Just one-third of States in India provide eggs to children under government programmes, an analysis of supplies made to mid-day meal programmes and Aanganwadis reveals.
Available data shows that it is mostly the schools in the southern and eastern region which serve eggs. In the north, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Uttarakhand provide eggs to students in schools.
Also, the policy is haphazardly implemented with Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Assam and Kerala serving only one egg per week under the programme, while Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu serve five eggs per week. Most States, including larger ones such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, do not serve eggs.
“The Centre has no role to play in it. We allocate money to the States under the scheme and it is up to them to decide the menu. The Centre also allocates money if a State comes up with innovative ideas for the scheme,” said an official from the Ministry of Human Resources and Development.
The Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition has pointed out in multiple recommendations and guidelines that egg is a complete food for children. “Egg is proven to be a wholesome food, especially for children below two years. It provides the nutrients that a child requires,” said Veena Shatrugna, former deputy director of National Institute of Nutrition.
Shatrugna added that while certain private contractors may not be okay with eggs on the menu, a State can always disburse separate funding to schools for providing eggs in mid-day meals, as in Telangana. The State provides three eggs per week under the scheme, and seven eggs a week per child in Aanganwadis (for children below six years).
Yet, a majority of the States are reluctant to serve eggs in either of the programmes.
“In a bid to discourage consumption, some factions have termed eggs as menstrual waste of hens and have failed to recognise that it is a high source of nutrition,” said Sylvia Karpagam, a Karnataka-based public health researcher and doctor.
A couple of factions have even written to the Child Rights Commission (CRC) asking for eggs to be declared as ‘cultural imposition,’ a request that the CRC has rejected.
On the contrary, what is a cultural imposition on the poor and the marginalised is the failure to include eggs, as these sections cannot afford animal protein from curd, milk, khoya or paneer, Shatrugna said.
Despite the political resistance, piecemeal efforts were made in certain districts of Madhya Pradesh to provide eggs and they bore fruit, said Sachin Kumar Jain, a social researcher. However, such initiatives were later discontinued because of political pressure.
“In 2010, an initiative was taken by former Indore collector Raghvendra Singh to distribute eggs and milk to 4,132 severely malnourished children. Over, 3,077 children recorded increase in weight and the status of 1,452 children improved to ‘moderate malnourishment category’, while 310 were declared malnutrition-free. But, the initiative was later discontinued due to political impediments,” said Jain.
In 2016, the Agriculture Ministry again wrote to the Madhya Pradesh government recommending inclusion of eggs in nutritious food programme. But, to no avail.
“To compensate for the quality protein in egg, children would have to be fed 20 to 25 almonds,” he said.
G Devegowda, Vice-President, World Poultry Science Association (India Branch) said, “In Karnataka, even as the State government is serving just two eggs per week in Aanganwadis , there is no supply of eggs in school mid-day meals. We have time and again requested the State to make them available.”