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Mamata nips dining hall mischief in the bud

Mamata Banerjee on Friday said that the dining halls were open to all students “irrespective of which community they belong to”

By Staff Reporter in Calcutta
  • Published 29.06.19, 6:15 AM
  • Updated 29.06.19, 6:15 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Mamata Banerjee said the minority affairs department was acting on a directive by the Centre to construct dining halls in the schools where midday meals are served by asking the district magistrates to prepare a list of schools where 70 per cent of the students belong to minority communities. (PTI)

An attempt to communalise a welfare measure and project it as an example of “appeasement” has been nipped in the bud by the Mamata Banerjee government.

The events leading up to the clarification brought to light the willingness of mainstream political parties to jump the gun with sensitive information for polarising Bengal.

Bengal BJP president and Midnapore MP Dilip Ghosh had tweeted on Thursday: “The West Bengal Government has issued a circular whereby it has directed the school authorities where 70% or more students are from the Muslim community to reserve a dining hall with seating arrangements for them. Why this discrimination between the students on the basis of religion? Is there some other malafide motive behind this segregation? Another conspiracy?”

Leader of the Opposition and Congress veteran Abdul Mannan raised the issue in the Assembly on Friday.

Subsequently, a media release from the Bengal minority affairs and madrasah education department and a statement by chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday made it clear that the objective was to pool resources and bridge the gap for the midday meal scheme, and that the dining halls were open to all students “irrespective of which community they belong to”.

The following is the release issued by the minority affairs department:

“This is with reference to some distorted and wholly untrue stories on social media on the alleged ‘instruction of Government of West Bengal to provide mid may meal dining halls for only those schools having 70% or more minority students’.

“The true facts are emphatically given below:

“1. To implement the Mid Day Meal scheme successfully, and to create the related infrastructure such as hygienic cooking shed and dining hall in State-run schools, the State Government pools funds from the budgets of various education-related Departments, while also ensuring that the facilities so created are used by all students, without any discrimination whatsoever.

“2. This year, the State’s School Education Department has allocated approx. Rs 200 crore for construction of dining halls under Mid Day Meal Scheme to cover 4,647 primary and 1,524 Upper Primary schools. However, there is still a huge demand for dining halls under MDM in schools and this is why the Minority Affairs and Madrasah Education Department sanctions funds to State-run schools for construction of cooking shed and dining halls.

“3. Similarly, for schools with substantial SC/ST students, such critical gap funding is provided by the Backward Classes Welfare Department. However, the assets/facilities created from such pooled funds are open to all, i.e. used by all students/beneficiaries irrespective of which community they belong to.

“4. It is also mentioned similar critical gap funding for inter alia, infrastructure development of schools in areas with more than 25% minority population is also provided by the Government of India, Ministry of Minority Affairs.

“5. The issue of the pooling/ dovetailing of funds for development projects needs to be seen in the context. The mid-day meal dining halls and other such projects/facilities funded by the Minority Affairs Department in the State’s schools benefit all students of the schools regardless of their ethnic or social background.”

Mamata said the minority affairs department was acting on a directive by the Centre to construct dining halls in the schools where midday meals are served by asking the district magistrates to prepare a list of schools where 70 per cent of the students belong to minority communities.

“The school education department has allotted Rs 200 crore to set up dining halls in different schools. The minority affairs department was doing the work in areas where 25 per cent of the population belong to minority communities. The backward classes welfare department is doing the work in areas where the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe population is higher,” the chief minister said.

In the House, Mannan, the leader of the Opposition, had sought a clarification from the chief minister or education minister Partha Chatterjee by drawing Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee’s attention.

“Sir, I do not have the circular in my hand, but I have come to know from very reliable and confidential source that a circular of the state government was trying to create religious discrimination among the schoolchildren. I think it is very unfortunate and either the chief minister or education minister should enlighten the House on this,” Mannan said.

In her Assembly chamber, Mamata initially said: “This was an old circular which had already been withdrawn. I think some errant officer dredged out an old circular and issued it without the government’s knowledge.”

Later, the chief minister got to know about the circular and clarified why such an order had been issued by the minority affairs department.

A source in the minority affairs department said: “The department carries out various development projects in areas where the minority population is more than 25 per cent under the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme. In this case too, the department is just bridging the gap in areas with significant minority population. This is nothing new.”