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Cloud on eggs in midday meal

Agartala, Dec. 12: The Tripura government is contemplating to drop eggs from the midday meal menu for schoolchildren up to Class VIII, in view of the rising prices of the protein.

The high prices of eggs have become a matter of concern for the school education department of the state.

The contractors in charge of the midday meal programme have told headmasters and inspectors of schools that serving egg curry to students twice a week has become unviable because of high prices.

They have demanded a change in the menu of midday meals served six days a week.

“They have told the headmasters and inspectors that eggs now sell at more than Rs 6 per piece. We are looking into the matter. As of now, no change is mooted in the menu. However, if prices keep going up we may be forced to do so,” said R.D. Dasgupta, the deputy director of school education.

He said at present, the menu comprises egg curry twice a week, vegetables twice a week and khichdi twice a week.

He said allocation of higher funds has been sought from the Union ministry of human resource development.

However, he added that the ministry allocates funds on the basis of an all-India policy and hence, the higher allocation might not come about.

The midday meal programme has been mired in controversy and corruption charges.

So far, three headmasters of senior basic schools — up to Class VIII — have been suspended on charges of corruption.

“Largescale irregularities happen in many schools. A section of students in schools, even in rural areas, does not partake of the midday meal because of the menu, which has no variety. This helps contractors earn huge profits and bribe the headmasters or headmistresses into silence,” said Dasgupta, adding that without constant monitoring in all schools, possible corruption in the midday meal scheme cannot be stopped.

“There are good headmasters who introduce changes in the menu to attract students. In Shishu Vihar School of Agartala, the headmaster has introduced different types of food. He can do so because the school is in the heart of Agartala town and most of the students belong to affluent families and avoid taking midday meals,” said Dasgupta.

“In one school, the contractor is charged with preparing midday meals for 600 students on paper but on an average, only 400 students are present on a given day and of them, 200 do not take midday meals. So the contractor prepares meals for only 200 students daily but bill us for 600,” said Dasgupta.

He said an action plan was being finalised to minimise corruption and irregularities.