APPETITE LOST? Students relish midday meal at a state-run school in East Singhbhum last year
No money equals no foodgrain and no midday meal for some 10,000 children studying in around 40 government middle and primary schools across four blocks of East Singhbhum for a week now, officially.
As state-run schools reopen on Wednesday after Holi, it is unsure if students from Classes I to VIII will get their midday meal that they have not received from periods varying between a month and a week, depending on the cradle they go to.
The state HRD department didn’t disburse funds to East Singhbhum district for midday meal for months. So, schools couldn’t buy foodgrain from Food Corporation of India (FCI), which has its godown in Sakchi, Jamshedpur.
According to norms, every month a school is allotted 25 quintals of rice per 100 children at Rs 550 a quintal (100kg).
Yashwant Kumar, in-charge of midday meal cell, district education department, admitted to the problem but said the problem was sorted.
“A sum of Rs 1 crore was pending from the state treasury for East Singhbhum, Due to this backlog, the FCI refused to supply foodgrain to schools recently. But state funds have come and schools will get money tomorrow (Wednesday),” the mid-level official claimed. “The system will be normal,” he added, implying children would get lunch.
But principals say problems like cash crunch don’t disappear overnight.
Arun Koila, headmaster of Bhilaipahari Middle School on city outskirts, who said he had been facing the foodgrain problem for a month due to funds backlog inching towards the Rs 25,000-mark, was candid.
“Schools get state funds via district education office. Funds have not yet come to us, hence we are unable to serve midday meals. Schools are neck-deep in debt with the FCI. We have to clear old dues and then buy new foodgrain,” he said.
Ramprasad, principal of Turiabera Middle School near NH-33, voiced his fears. “Everyday, officials say we will get the money but where is it?”
Midday meal being directly linked with attendance in state-run schools, principals are dreading mass dropouts.
When Ranchi-based Kameshwar Prasad, joint secretary, state HRD department, was asked last week, he downplayed the issue. “Yes, there are snags with the treasury, but I don’t know what,” he said.
Adding to the chaos, the number of days students faced empty plates varied from school to school. In some, principals initially shelled out money from their own pockets for rice. Some schools saved grain, at others, stocks ran out fast. Some admit to not having serving the midday meal for a month, others say the problem is recent.