Hyderabad: More than 1549 students have suffered food poisoning across the state of Telangana over the past year.
Nirmal district of Telangana recorded the highest number with 200 cases while Hanamkonda recorded the lowest with 8 cases, according to a study by the Hakku initiative.
The increasing number of incidents involving the issue of substandard quality of food are not just limited to government institutions but also private institutions and universities.
Hundreds of students belonging to the minority, scheduled castes, tribals and backward castes have suffered food poisoning in the last few months.
Reasons behind the incidents
Negligence of sanitation and safety is one of the major reasons behind the issue in most cases in addition to the appearance of insects and worms in foods provided by the hostel messes and canteens.
A recent study by a campaign-based online platform revealed that about 200 students fell ill after consuming contaminated food and water in state-run schools and hostels in the last 18 days.
Many government-run schools lack safe drinking water and the rice served at residential schools was reportedly found to be uncooked, hard, or pressed, leading to metabolic disruption in many cases.
Students and their parents often fail to confront the organisation regarding their health and safety and hence the cases remain unknown.
In many cases, students end up in hospitals after consuming badly catered food but publicity is limited as organisations draw their own rules.
Deprived sections of society affected the most
According to a social audit conducted by South First, as many as 1,50,000 students are in the 268 institutions of the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWRIES) and over 74,000 in 872 SC hostels fell under the food poisoning instances radar. (Source: Telangana Socio-Economic Outlook 2022).
More than 67,000 students are in 204 institutions of the Telangana Minorities Residential Educational Institutions Society (TMREIS).
Over 1,10,000 students are in the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) residential schools for girls.
More than 1,32,000 students are in 281 institutions under the Mahatma Jyothiba Phule Telangana Backward Classes Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (MJP-TBCWRS).
As per government data, over 22,00,000 students are served mid-day meals in government schools.
According to TTWREI Society, the Government of Telangana over 62,000 students are in institutions of Tribal Welfare Residential Educational Society.
Cases from Telangana
August recorded the highest number of cases with an average of 26 students falling ill per day due to the consumption of bad food and water.
Gadwal gurukul for girls (Gattu Mandal), IIIT Basara (Nirmal), Ashram Girls School (Jularpadu Mandal), Tribal Welfare School (Kulkacharla Mandal) and Minority Residential Girls High School have recorded the maximum number of cases in Telangana in last 11 months.
At least 36 cases of food poisoning have been reported in 34 educational institutions located in 20 districts in the state that included Sangareddy (3), Jangaon (1), Narayanpet (1), Warangal (2), Siddipet (3), Asifabad (4), Vikarabad (2), Mahabubababd (2), Adilabad (2), Kamareddy (1), Nirmal (3), Nalgonda (2), Mancherial (1), Sircilla (1), Karimnagar (1), Medak (2), Mahabubnagar (1), Hanamkonda (1), Gadwal (2) and Khammam (1), according to a study by Hakku Initiative, a campaign-based online platform that works towards solutions to people’s problems engaging citizens and the government.
Telangana: 236 students suffer from food poisoning in 26 days
In March, 42 students of Vishwanagar primary school in Kurnool district, fell sick after consuming spoiled eggs that came in a mid-day meal.
In a major case of negligence from Siddipet, 132 students fell ill following food poisoning at the Telangana Minorities Residential School in June. Students claimed that they were served rotten curry.
In another case from July, students at Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge and Technologies, RGUKT-Basara, took ill owing to food poisoning. The incident came less than a month after students had staged a week-long protest demanding better quality food, drinking water and other amenities at the institute.
Students even complained that workers were bathing in the campus kitchen, risking hygiene and sanitation.
In August, over 100 students of the Telangana Tribal Welfare Residential School for boys in Kulkacharla, Vikarabad district fell sick after drinking contaminated water.
The students claimed that said that they were forced to defecate in the surroundings while the toilets at the hostel remained inoperative.
The unhygienic atmosphere around drinking water added to the rise in mosquitos and other parasites which contaminated it.
In a bizarre incident which occurred in September, 33 students fell ill in a tribal girls’ hostel at Ashram High School at Wardhannapet in Warangal, where a dead lizard was found in the food served to the students.
In the same month in a case reported from Siddipet, 30 students from Social Welfare Gurukul Boys School, fell in a case of suspected food poisoning.
Telangana: Several students of Gurukul school suffer food poisoning; hospitalised
Another incident was reported in September, where 31 students of a minority residential school in Asifabad were rushed to the hospital after they were forced to eat rice with worms in it.
In Hyderabad, students from Osmania University (OU) on several occasions faced similar issues.
OU girl students staged a sit-in protest in September against the low quality of food that was being served in the varsity hostel.
Students from hostel number 3 of the Ladies Hostel Complex protested on campus alleging that they found a broken bangle piece in the food that was served by the hostel.
OU girl students protest over quality of food at hostel
236 students who are enrolled in various educational institutions throughout the state in September, had contracted food poisoning as a result of tainted food and water supplies.
In October, 20 KGBV (Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalaya, Adilabad) students, took ill after consuming chutney that reportedly had a lizard in it.
Telangana: KGBV students protest after several hospitalised with food poisoning
Another incident was reported in November, where 25 girls fell ill after consuming pressed rice for breakfast at Narayankhed in Sangareddy district. The chaotic video of the girls being taken to a local hospital was circulated widely on Twitter and alarmed people.
In November, 35 students from Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV, Sangareddy), who belonged to classes 6-10 fell sick after they were served expired food by the staff.
Telangana: 25 students suffer food poisoning at residential school
In December, 14 Tribal Girls’ Ashram School students suffered food poisoning in the Khammam district.
Telangana: 14 Tribal Girls’ Ashram School students suffer food poisoning
In December, 11 students at a KGBV, Adilabad, were admitted to the Neradigonda Public Health Centre (PHC) for treatment after started throwing up on consuming the low-quality food provided by the mess.
Telangana: KGBV students protest after several hospitalised with food poisoning
What can be the solution?
While a social audit has been used to assess the mid-day meal scheme, there is a need to extend it to all state educational institutions.
A mandatory weekly food audit can be performed to maintain quality and identify risks to the health of students.
Auditing the food before providing it to students in government institutes can be one of the many solutions to take the issue and build trust among citizens.
Audits must not just be confined to mid-day meals but should also bring up remedies and reforms to ensure food safety.
(The numbers are based on media reports in Telugu and English, print and television news sources, and are compiled by the research organisation Hakku Initiative, Hyderabad.)