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Poverty gnaws: morning school for one meal, noon classes for another

Behrampore, Sept. 23: Poverty has prompted several households in Murshidabad to admit their children to two schools so that they get more than one meal a day, the district primary school council has found out.

The council has ordered a survey. Three families The Telegraph spoke to admitted that their children attended two schools every day so that they got two meals — a luxury the villagers can’t afford.

The three families — enlisted in the below poverty line category — stay in Sheikhpara village on the outskirts of Behrampore.

The findings have put school authorities and government officials in the district in a fix. All of them said enrolling a child in more than one school was illegal, but they were not sure how the practice could be curbed. The Right to Education Act does not specify any penalty for enrolling a child in two or more schools.

There is also the humanitarian angle. All the families are poor and want to ensure that their children do not return home hungry.

One government official suggested an awareness campaign.

The three families have admitted their children to a morning school — 6.30-10.30am — in Chaltia village, 1km from Sheikhpara.

After having the mid-day meal there at 9.30am, the same three children — two girls and a boy studying in Classes III and IV — walk to another school run by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in their own village at 11am. In that school, they have their second meal at 2.30pm.

The father of one of the two girls enrolled in two schools said he was unable to provide two square meals to his family of five — three daughters, a son and his wife — with his meagre pay of Rs 3,000 a month.

“I find it impossible to provide them two square meals a day. So I admitted my daughter, my third child, to two primary schools. She gets two meals of rice, dal and vegetable curry. Twice a week, she gets fish and eggs. This way, at least there is lesser burden on me.”

The father added: “We are poor people and it is a relief for me that at least one of my children is having two proper meals.”

He cited another advantage. “Not only is my daughter getting two meals. She is also under the supervision of teachers throughout the day. If she had stayed at home, she would be roaming around in the village.”

The father of another girl, who also goes to the same two schools, said: “My daughter has two meals a day which I find difficult to provide.” He earns Rs 2,500 a month.

Asked if he was aware that it was illegal to admit a child to two schools, he said: “Why should it be wrong to put my child in two schools? She is not stealing anyone’s money, she is eating food provided by the government.”

The chairman of the primary school council in Murshidabad, Sagir Hossain, said he had got reports from some teachers that several children in the district were admitted to more than one primary school. “This is illegal. I have asked the district inspector (DI) of schools (primary) to ask his deputies to carry out a survey on this,” Hossain said.

Leelabati Swarnakar, the headmistress of one of the schools the children attend, said she was aware that some children were enrolled in two schools.

“There are 97 students in my school and after talking to them I have come to know that 20 to 25 children in my school attend a morning school for the mid-day meal. But we are helpless because we don’t have any system of scrutiny. We have been told by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to admit every willing child,” she said.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan project officer in the district, Debabrata Biswas, said: “According to the Right to Education Act, it is illegal for a child to be admitted to more than one school. However, the law is not clear on what action should be taken. This problem can be tackled only through awareness campaigns. I will inquire about the matter.”