Representational use only. Image Courtesy: Flickr
Lucknow: In yet another shocker from Uttar Pradesh, students of a government primary school in Faizabad, now Ayodhya district of Uttar Pradesh, are being served salt and rice under the mid-day meal scheme.
Recall that last September, the Narendra Modi government had renamed the mid-day meal (MDM) scheme as ‘PM Poshan’. The aim was to focus more on a child’s nutritional levels rather than just providing a meal. However, the situation doesn’t seem to have improved in a year.
As the primary school in Pandey Ka Purva of Bikapur block is close to a village, several students collect their lunch and go home during lunch break. That’s how some parents got to know about boiled rice-salt being served in mid-day meals. Several parents protested against the school, after which officials from the education department were asked to investigate the whole matter and conduct surprise inspections from time to time.
As per the menu of the mid-day meal scheme prescribed by the UP government, children are supposed to be provided rice, pulses and green vegetables. Milk and fruits are also included in the meal chart on certain days.
Payal, a student at the school told NewsClick: “This was not the first time we had salt with rice in our lunch due to lack of vegetables or dal.”
Santosh, a daily wage labourer, whose two children are enrolled in the same primary school, told NewsClick: “Since the school is five minutes walking distance from our village, most of the children bring the lunch served in school home and they go back after lunch. We were upset after seeing our children having rice without vegetables, instead only salt was served. We had complained earlier to the principal but she turned a deaf ear.
After video of this travesty went viral on social media, the district authorities called it ‘a serious lapse’ and initiated an inquiry into the incident. The school principal has been suspended.
Ayodhya District Magistrate Nitish Kumar, however, blamed the school management. “As per the orders by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the menu of mid-day meals across the districts is fixed. They are also given fruits and milk on some days. But these incidents happen due to the lapse of principal and supervisory staff,” Kumar told NewsClick.
“We have suspended the principal Ekta Yadav and assistant teacher Gayatri Devi and an investigation has been launched in the matter. It is true that the students got just plain rice and were forced to eat that with salt for lack of vegetables. This is a serious lapse,” he added.
This is not the first time that children in Ayodhya’s primary school have got this kind of meal that they were entitled to. And it is unlikely that the Ayodhya school is the only one in Uttar Pradesh where this has happened.
Three weeks ago, children were reportedly served plain rice under the mid-day meal in Deoria district. Several children have complained that they were not even getting the “sub-standard meals” for months.
In 2019, the Uttar Pradesh government booked a journalist for exposing corruption in the mid-day meal scheme after he came across students being served roti and salt in Mirzapur district.
Ironically, the Uttar Pradesh police booked the journalist, alleging that he was “hatching a conspiracy to defame the government.” Later, he was cleared by the UP police.
However, teachers claimed that the MDM scheme launched to provide nutritious food to the students studying in the government primary school was running on credit. Teachers are saving their jobs by buying vegetables, pulses, oil, spices, milk, fruits etc. from their own pockets as they have not received the conversion cost since the past six months.
NewsClick has earlier written on the crisis, the teachers and , principal have been facing in Uttar Pradesh due to lack of funds.
NewsClick also spoke with multiple rasoiya (cooks) in different districts to understand the ground reality of the MDM scheme. All of them alleged that they were not getting vegetables and pulses to cook. “We have been getting Rs 1,000 per month, less than what a daily wage labourer gets, and all the blame comes on us when food quality is found bad or salt-rice is served. We have not received our monthly honorarium for the past six-seven months, but who cares?”
It may be mentioned that the Central government has not made an increment in the conversion cost under the National Programme of Mid-Day Meals in Schools (NP-MDMS) since 2020. The revised rate of the cooking cost for the primary stage (class 1 to 5) is Rs 4.97 per child, and Rs 7.45 for upper primary (class 6 to 8), which was revised in 2018.
In the past two and half years, not a single penny has been hiked even though the inflation rate has increased significantly. The cost of the items used in mid-day meals has increased from two-fold to three-fold.
“It doesn’t matter if you change the scheme’s name to PM Poshan from MDM, because until you don’t increase the conversion cost and ensure timely payment, how long we will arrange for food from our own pocket,” a teacher told NewsClick.
According to the government data disclosed in the Lok Sabha on November 25, 2019, Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of corruption cases in the midday meal scheme. Out of the total 52 complaints filed in the past three years, 14 were from UP with Bihar inching closer with 11 complaints.