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Midday meals get no relief on cooking gas

New Delhi, Nov. 23: The petroleum ministry has rejected a request to allow supply of subsidised LPG for school midday meals, but there are suggestions that the six-cylinder annual cap for households could be relaxed.

“The ministry of petroleum has advised that the additional burden could be compensated to the ministry of HRD through budgetary provisions for the midday meal scheme,” junior HRD minister Shashi Tharoor told the Rajya Sabha today in a written reply.

The rejection of the request means the HRD ministry will have to bear an additional burden of Rs 653 crore annually. Sources said the ministry had Rs 1,300 crore unspent from last year’s funds under the scheme. This may be used to buy cooking gas. The annual budgetary allocation for the programme is Rs 10,000 crore.

Union HRD minister M.M. Pallam Raju sought to allay apprehensions the programme could take a hit. He said his ministry would write to the finance ministry for the extra cash, but if required it would raise the additional funds from its own resources.

“If the finance ministry does not provide the additional support, then the requirement has to meet from within our own resources. We have to make sure the quality of MDM (midday meal) scheme is not compromised,” Raju told reporters when asked about the issue on the sidelines of an event in Delhi.

Home cap rethink

The hint of a rethink on the cap for households came from petroleum minister Veerappa Moily, who informed the Lok Sabha that “representations had been received to revise the annual capů which is being looked into”. Sources said there were indications the limit could be raised to nine cylinders a year.

A senior official of Moily’s ministry said “taking these (the requests) into consideration, the cap could be increased if it does not substantially increase the subsidy burden”. “The cap had been introduced to reduce the subsidy. But it has also reduced diversion for commercial use. The checks by oil companies have resulted in the unearthing of a large number of multiple connections,” the official said.

The Centre had imposed the cap on September 13.

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had termed the Centre’s cap “anti-student” and said it would affect the midday meal scheme, which many say has helped attract children to school and checked dropout rates.

The HRD ministry had written to the petroleum ministry saying the school meals should be kept out of the six-cylinder cap. The programme is being implemented in about 12 lakh elementary schools in the country, benefiting an estimated eight crore children from Classes I to VIII.

Earlier, government primary and upper primary schools used to get the subsidised cylinders under the non-domestic exempted category that ties supplies to requirements.