Serving of around 16 crore midday meals worth over ₹ 100 crore were over-reported by the local administration in West Bengal from April to September last year, a panel appointed by the Ministry of Education has found.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) had in January constituted the 'joint review mission' (JRM) to review the implementation of the centrally sponsored scheme PM POSHAN in West Bengal following complaints of irregularities. The panel noted "serious discrepancies in information submitted regarding number of meals served at various levels".
"According to the first and second Quarterly Progress Reports (QPRs) submitted to the Government of India by the state government, about 140.25 crore meals had been served under PM Poshan scheme during April to September, 2022. However, as per the QPRs submitted by the districts to the state, the number of meals served was about 124.22 crore. "Thus, there is an over-reporting of over 16 crore meals which is a serious issue. The corresponding material cost works out to be ₹ 100 crore," the report said.
The panel also questioned the diversion of funds meant for the scheme to pay compensation to fire victims, misallocation of food grains, cooking of rice, dal and vegetables up to 70 per cent less than "prescribed quantities", and usage of expired packets of condiments.
The joint review mission, which comprised nutrition experts and officers from the Centre and the state government, reviewed the implementation of the scheme, formerly known as the midday meal scheme, in the state and district and school levels for a specified period of time on defined parameters. "The state used to claim that more than 95 per cent children availed midday meals on an average basis. However, in all the schools visited, the number of children availing these meals was between 60 to 85 per cent during the period," it said.
The team also reviewed the fund flow from state to schools or implementing agencies, coverage of the scheme, management structure at state, district, block levels, delivery mechanism of food grains from state to schools, construction of kitchen-cum-stores, procurement or replacement of kitchen devices, among others.
On April 3, Bengal's Education Minister Bratya Basu tweeted that the JRM which visited schools "across the length and breadth" of the state in February had submitted its report without even informing the project director from the state. "They have submitted their report without even informing the project director (PD), CMDM, who was the state representative on the team, let alone getting his signature on the report... this is another example of a blatant violation of the Centre-state relations that the central government does regularly," he had tweeted.