The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sick or starving after showcase midday meal

Hyderabad, Jan. 2: Andhra Pradesh’s hyped “midday meal” programme left 150 children starving and some others sick on the inaugural day today.

The venue, the upper primary school in Shadnagar, was handpicked for chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu to showcase the programme aimed at checking the dropout rate in schools.

An angry Naidu reprimanded Mahboobnagar district’s education department officials. District education officer Manmatha Reddy blamed the fiasco on the additional children the district revenue authorities had roped in.

“I got food prepared for the children on the rolls. I should not be held responsible for those who were brought by the revenue officials without informing me,” he said.

Over 20 physically and mentally handicapped children from a local school, run by a voluntary organisation, were the silent spectators. They were fed only after Naidu intervened.

Many education department officials and Shadnagar residents blamed the shortage on using the Punjab variety of rice. “When we have abundant stock of local varieties, why not use them'” said local merchant M. Ramachandra Reddy.

Naidu warned the officials against trying to “sabotage” the meal scheme. “So what if more children have come' What is wrong if you feed them today'”

Complaints of vomiting and stomach ailments from across the state, too, marred the launch of the meal scheme — planned to feed nearly 78 lakh to 82 lakh children in all primary schools in the state.

Twenty students of a primary school at Ambedkarnagar in Khammam district were hospitalised after eating the meal. Children in Tenali town in Guntur district and Sadashivpet in Medak district, too, complained of sickness.

The meal programme was launched with rice quota sanctioned by the Centre and its grant of Rs 95 crore for the last three months of fiscal 2002-03. The state has earmarked Rs 260 crore for the next fiscal.

The government has roped in NGOs and voluntary organisations to produce and distribute food to schools, with financial assistance from banks. “The government proposes to provide Rs 2 a child a day towards expenses. This would be sufficient for the NGOs to clear the bank loans,” school education secretary I.V. Subba Rao said.

Shadnagar, Naidu’s showcase for the meal scheme launch, is Congress MLA Shyam Rao’s constituency. The state had earlier chosen it to showcase a vaccine centre when Microsoft chief Bill Gates had come to Hyderabad in November. The district town, 45 km from here, is also the state’s showcase for rural poverty eradication projects.

Not just the education officials, even the local police rubbed the government the wrong way today when they stopped the chief minister’s aide, Vijay Kumar, from entering the school along with Naidu.

“When he said he was with the chief minister, the police asked him for identity card. Police also failed to identify a local TDP Parliament member, R. Ramachandraiah,” said a member of the chief minister’s security staff.

Naidu took the opportunity today to launch an employment generation scheme called Maarpu that would generate jobs for the skilled in villages in collaboration with the corporate sector.

The programme aims to get jobs for 50,000 educated youths this year under various CMEY (chief minister employment yojana) schemes.

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