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Menu to egg on students

Behrampore, Aug. 17: The Murshidabad administration has added egg and chicken to the school midday meal menu, prompting a near 20 per cent rise in students’ attendance.

Since July 17, the district’s 6,000-odd schools have been serving egg-potato curry along with rice and dal on Wednesdays and egg-potato curry, rice and vegetables on Saturdays. On other days, the schools serve the usual menu of vegetable curry, dal and rice.

Students of Classes V to VIII are served egg curry on Thursdays and Saturdays and chicken curry on Wednesdays. On other days, pupils get vegetable curry, dal and rice.

Under the centrally funded midday meal scheme, a sum of Rs 3.69 is allotted for each primary student and Rs 5.38 for pupils in Classes V to VII.

As the money is not enough to offer egg and chicken, the Murshidabad administration is utilising a portion of the accrued bank interest on midday meal funds.

“The interest in the past 15 years adds up to Rs 48 crore. We are using a portion of this to fund the improved menu,” a senior district official said.

“Earlier, schools used to mostly serve vegetable or soybean curry and rice or sometimes khichdi. In the absence of an attractive menu, attendance in most schools was poor,” he added.

The headmasters of several schools said the attendance rate of students had improved by around 15-20 per cent after the new menu was introduced.

The midday meal scheme was introduced by the Centre to arrest the school dropout rate. The rate in Murshidabad is 8 per cent, one of the highest in Bengal.

District magistrate Y. Ratnakara Rao said: “We want to encourage students to attend classes daily. Fixing the menu was one of the steps required for that.”

Under the scheme, schools usually decide the menu. The state government can make changes by paying the additional amount from its coffers.

Noor Latif, the headmaster of Baruipara High School in Hariharpara, said: “Our school has 1,300 students in Classes V to VIII. On average, 75 per cent of them attended school daily and had midday meal. But after egg and chicken curry were introduced, the attendance rate has increased by about 15 per cent.”