The Centre has decided to form a joint team of officials from the Ministry of Education and the Kerala government to examine the "improbable" claims made by the state about almost 100 per cent of enrolled students in primary availing mid-day meal on a daily basis in 2022-23.
The issue was flagged during a meeting of the Programme Approval Board (PAB) of the PM POSHAN scheme, formerly known as the mid-day meal scheme.
Earlier this year also, the Centre had constituted a 'joint review mission' (JRM) on the implementation of the centrally sponsored scheme PM POSHAN in West Bengal following similar complaints of alleged irregularities.
All 14 districts in Kerala had claimed that 100 per cent students in the Bal Vatika (below class 1) primary section have been receiving mid-day meals.
"PAB observed that in the districts as mentioned in the above tables, almost 100 pc of the enrolled children in the primary have been shown as availed school meal on all working days.
"This seems highly improbable. PAB decided that a team comprising representatives from central and state government may visit a few districts to ascertain the ground-level picture to verify the authenticity of the reported coverage by cross-verifying data from various levels-- schools, blocks, and districts," according to the minutes of the meeting.
The PAB has also advised the state to put a robust and foolproof mechanism to ensure that data is entered through correct and real-time reporting of the actual number of students who availed the school meal on each working day.
"PAB also advised the state to ensure that data on the coverage of students from districts may be captured in the format of Quarterly Progress Report (QPR) for greater transparency, accuracy and accountability, as the state has informed that capturing of data at the district level in district QPRs is not in practice in the state," the minutes said.
The minutes show that the Kerala government claimed that of the 16.91 lakh children enrolled in the state’s primary schools (government and government-aided), 16.69 lakh (99 per cent) availed midday meals on all working days, while the corresponding numbers are 11.45 lakh and 10.85 lakh (95 per cent) in the case of upper primary grades.
Earlier, a panel appointed by the Ministry of Education had found that serving of around 16 crore midday meals worth over Rs 100 crore was over-reported by the local administration in West Bengal from April to September last year.
The panel had noted "serious discrepancies in the information submitted regarding the number of meals served at various levels".
The West Bengal government, however, had dismissed the report as one-sided, claiming that the views of the state had not been noted and the data needed to be verified.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN) Scheme, there is a provision of a hot cooked meal to children of pre-schools or Bal Vatika in primary schools in addition to the over 12 crore children of classes 1 to 8 studying in 11.20 lakh schools.
Under the scheme, most components, including cooking costs, are split in a 60:40 ratio between the Union government and the states and UTs with legislatures, and 90:10 with the north-eastern states, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The cost of food grains is borne entirely by the Centre.
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