West Bengal education minister Bratya Basu tweeted on Monday that the joint review mission (JRM) team sent by the Centre to inspect the cooked mid-day meal scheme “has submitted their report, without even informing the state representative in the team, let alone getting his signature on the report”.
The minister cited this as another example of “blatant violation of Centre-State relations”.
The team had 12 members sent by the Centre and one West Bengal government representative. Tapan Kumar Adhikary, project director (PD) of the cooked mid-day meal (CMDM) scheme, was the state representative.
The joint review mission — led by Anuradha Dutta, head of the food and nutrition department at Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture & Technology in Uttarakhand’s Pantnagar — toured the state from January 31 till the first week of February to inspect the quality of mid-day meal served to the students from classes I to VIII at government-aided schools.
The review followed allegations that sub-standard cooked items were being served to the students as part of the scheme, whose 60 per cent cost is borne by the Centre and the rest by the state.
Minister Basu’s tweet on Monday afternoon reads: “The PD, CMDM, who was the state representative in the team has written to the chairperson of the JRM regarding this omission. We will decide on the next course of action after getting her response. However, this is another example of a blatant violation of Centre-State relations that the Central Government does regularly. #Constitution #Federalism# Omissions and Commissions.”
Calls and text messages from The Telegraph to Dutta, seeking her response to Basu’s allegations, went unanswered.
Calls and text messages from this newspaper to Adhikary, the state representative on the team, went unanswered, too.
Asked about the content of the report, a senior official in the education department said they had not gone through it because it was not signed by the state representative. “At this moment we are concerned over the fact that the state’s representative, who accompanied the joint review mission, was not even informed before the submission of the report. Ideally, our representative should have been consulted before drafting the report. We want to hear from the mission’s chairperson about this omission,” the official said.
Minister Basu’s tweet says: “Joint review mission (JRM) is integral to any jointly sponsored scheme of the Central & State government, having representatives from both.”
In late December last year, Basu had accused the University Grants Commission of bias as none of the vice-chancellors of the 40 universities in the state found a place on the regulator’s seven-member zonal committee for the east and the northeast.
“That too at a time when the President of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) is VC of one of our foremost Universities! #Partisan UGC #dubious intentions,” Basu had tweeted on December 29, referring to Jadavpur University vice-chancellor Suranjan Das.
On Monday, the minister told this newspaper in a text message: “That is why we are repeatedly harping on the exclusionary activities of the Central Government! Time and again we are witnessing these types of violations of constitutional federalism, be it NEP, UGC or the 13th Joint Review Mission.” According to sources in the education department, the team had examined the height-weight ratio of some students to find out whether the mid-day meal scheme beneficiaries are being provided adequate nutritious food or not.
The team had reportedly reviewed 32 parameters, including school infrastructure, and food quality and quantity before preparing the report. The members also spoke to schoolchildren and their parents.
The joint review mission team came to West Bengal at a time when the Trinamul Congress government in the state and the Union government are at loggerheads over visits by central teams.
In January, central teams visited the state in two phases to investigate alleged malpractices in implementation of projects under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.