Maharashtra adopts red and green dot system on student ID cards to indicate food preferences

The government resolution also outlined that schools where 40 per cent of parents do not consent to eggs will not include them in the mid-day meals

Representative image (photo: National Herald archives)
Representative image (photo: National Herald archives)
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NH Digital

In a move that has ignited widespread criticism, the Maharashtra government has decided to mark the food preferences of students on their identity cards, distinguishing between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. The contentious decision aims to streamline the distribution of specific food items, namely bananas for vegetarians and eggs for non-vegetarians, under the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti scheme.

The state's school education department had previously announced the inclusion of additional items in midday meals

to enhance nutritional value, introducing bananas for vegetarians and eggs for non-vegetarians. In a circular issued on Wednesday, the department suggested using visible green or red dots on students' identity cards to indicate their dietary choices. School management committees have been directed to implement this new arrangement.

The Indian Express reported how the decision has faced severe backlash from educationists who label it as an "unnecessary classification." Vasant Kalpande, a senior educationist, was quoted expressing concerns, stating that the scheme could have been implemented without marking individual students. He highlighted the diverse cultural backgrounds in society, emphasising that some students may eat eggs occasionally despite being labelled non-vegetarians.

The newspaper reported that teachers argued that this information could be managed through the school register, eliminating the need for visible markers on ID cards. Many quoted by the newspaper believe that teachers already possess this information and that students are capable of communicating their dietary preferences.

The circular specifies that a red dot should be used for students with parental consent to consume eggs, while a green dot should denote vegetarian students or those without consent for eggs. However, questions arise about the practicality of this system, particularly in cases where students may have occasional exceptions to their dietary choices.

Additionally, the government resolution outlined that schools where 40 per cent of parents do not consent to eggs will not include them in the midday meals. Furthermore, schools receiving meals from certain charities affiliated with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) will receive fruits instead of eggs.

Religious sentiments have played a role in shaping these conditions, with objections from some groups claiming that serving eggs could hurt the sentiments of students from vegetarian households. A report in the Free Press Journal said the decision to include eggs in midday meals has been a contentious issue nationwide, with only 14 states, including Maharashtra, providing eggs to schools.

Critics argue that the colour-coded ID cards perpetuate discrimination and dietary stigma. Kishore Darak, an educationist, told Free Press Journal that he would urge the government to revise the circular, asserting that it brings caste and religion into school meal choices and encourages nutrition without discrimination. As the controversy unfolds, many are calling for a reconsideration of the measures that they believe infringe on students' autonomy and fuel "unnecessary divisions".

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