The Mamata Banerjee government has asked district authorities to send a list of food items to be served as midday meals at state-aided primary and secondary schools to ensure that students are not deprived of basic entitlements.
The trigger behind the move is said to be the furore that followed Hooghly BJP MP Locket Chatterjee’s surprise visit to a high school in Chinsurah where she found the students being served only boiled rice and salt in midday meals.
“There is little doubt the intervention of the BJP MP from Hooghly shook Nabanna and prompted it to act,” said an official. The meal scheme’s cost is shared between the Centre and the state on a 60:40 basis.
On Friday, two districts — East Midnapore and Hooghly — came up with menus for six days (from Monday to Saturday) by including fish and chicken. While East Midnapore has allowed schools to include fish as an alternative to eggs two days a week, Hooghly has made chicken mandatory once a week, in addition to eggs two days a week.
“All state-aided schools in the district have to follow the menu all six days. No change will be allowed under any circumstances,” said a Hooghly official.
Some other districts, like Birbhum, have focused on fixed menus. “We already have a list of menu for schools. We have asked the authorities to follow them strictly,” said an official in Birbhum.
The midday meal scheme, launched in 1995, aims to ensure a minimum of 450 calories for primary school children (Class I to IV) and 700 calories for students from Class V to Class VIII every day. In Bengal, while the authorities come up with model menus every year to ensure the calorie intake (See chart), sources said monitoring was a problem.
An official at Nabanna said many schools did not follow the model menus properly in the absence of proper supervision. “I had raised the issue in meetings with DMs but the situation did not change. The district authorities often pointed out that poor allotment doesn’t allow many schools to follow the list strictly,” said a senior official.
An official in East Burdwan said Rs 4.48 was allotted for a primary student’s meal every day and Rs 6.71 for pupils of Class V and VIII. This is in addition to rice, supplied by the Food Corporation of India. “It is almost impossible to follow specific menus with the allotted funds,” said the official.
Sources in Nabanna said the Centre should take responsibility for any lapses given that the costs are shared. “We have requested the Centre to enhance the allotment, but nothing was done. We have tried to support schools in many ways, like supplying potato from government stocks whenever available, but the Centre did not do its bit,” said a source in Nabanna.
A helpline (18003456135) is in place for midday meal complaints in Hooghly. In East Midnapore, municipality and block level officials have been asked to visit schools regularly to check whether the menus are being followed.