(An old post on my previous blog: posted on August 30th, 2006)
(This is a news article published in ‘Eenaadu’, a telugu news paper on 28-6-2006. The article depicts the pathetic situation of the mid-day meals program that is being implemented in the Government schools).
Middle-men mismanaging the rice
Agencies which did not receive the bills
Unclean cooking and serving environment
‘Newstoday’ conducted a survey on mid-day meals scheme in 115 schools in AP. The numbers at glance:
Total number of students: 19,657
Number of students present: 13,876Number of students who ate food in mid-day meals: 9592
Number of students who didn’t eat food: 4,284
Number of schools with clean cooking and serving environment: 26
Number of schools with unclean cooking and serving environment: 89
Number of schools in which rice served is good: 19
Number of schools in which rice served is of poor quality: 96
Number of schools with no kitchen: 94
Number of schools with kitchens that are unusable: 12
Number of schools with kitchens that are in ruins: 4
Number of schools with proper kitchens: 3
Number of schools with kitchens under constructions: 2
Number of schools giving egg twice a week: 4
Number of schools giving egg once a week: 95
Number of schools giving egg once in 15 days: 3
Number of schools giving egg once a month: 13
Number of schools which did not pay bills to agency from last 4 months: 68
Number of schools which did not pay bills to agency from last 2 months: 32
Number of schools which did not pay bills to agency from last 1 month: 15
“The mid-day meals program is being implemented very well in the state. The students are receiving nutritious food. Due to this, the students’ attendance also increased. Dwakra and self-help groups are getting their livelihood. There is no shortage of funds for this program.”
- This is the statement of Govt. on mid-day meals
To find out how far this is true, ‘Newstoday’ did this survey. From each of the 23 districts, it selected 5 government schools and on 18th of August it conducted a survey in 115 primary and upper-primary schools state-wide. Of these, in 3 schools on that day the meals were not served, the reason being that rice is not received and the Dwakra and the self-help groups which are running the scheme did not receive the funds from the Government. In almost all the places, the situation is the same. The agencies are taking the raw materials for loan from the shops and cooking the meals for namesake. As a result, the food served is not sufficient and is tasteless
The rice that is given by the central Government for the mid-day meals for free is being mismanaged by the middle-men involved in the process. The 50 kilo rice bag that was supplied to the Hayathnagar Madal Parishath Central Primary school, Rangareddy district weighed only 45 kilos. The situation is the same in Ranganayakula colony, Kotthaguda, Bandaravi Upper Primary school, Batasingaram Central Primary school of the same district. The authorities themselves are agreeing with the fact that similar fraud is taking place state-wide.
And the nutrition aspect of the food is beyond discussion. As such the Government alloted Rs. 1.50 per student (from this month this is being increased to Rs. 2 but the bills are not yet paid) and it is not paying the bills to the agencies. Hence the agencies are executing the scheme according to their whims and fancies. Poor quality rice which is like a paste and watery sambar, this is the grand food served to the kids in the Government schools. On the days when there is no sambar, they serve dal and watery rasam. This the ‘menu’ that is being implemented in all the places state-wide. The vegetables are put in the sambar for namesake. The same is the case with dal and the leafy vegetables that are supposed to be present in dal. Each bag of rice contains at least one kilo of insects, stones etc. For the women groups who prepare the rice, the process of cleaning and washing the rice is of lot of effort. It is a joke to state that this kind of food supplies nutrition values to the kids.
Although the ministers and the Government officials announce now and then that “We issued orders to supply egg twice a week compulsorily to all the kids. And the authorities have told us that they are implementing it”, it is being not followed. And the number of schools which give egg once a week is also less. Only once or twice a month, the students are getting eggs.
Many schools do not have compound walls and as a result pigs are roaming freely in the premises of many schools. There is also the nuisance of dogs near the cooking place. Students have no choice but to eat food with dogs around them. In many schools, the cooking utensils and the surroundings used for cooking are highly unclean and unhygienic. About 20 percent of the kids attending school, go home and have their lunch. About 10 percent of the kids bring food from home. Many students told that they get stomach pain after eating the poor quality rice served at school. Even the parents are warning the kids not to eat lunch served at the school. There are many examples which contradict the statements made by the officials that the mid-days meals program helped in bringing down the number of absentees. The teachers tried to cover up the issue saying that since there were many holidays from 11th of this month, the attendance was poor. But the villagers told ‘Newstoday’ that even in regular days on an average only 30 percent of the kids attend the school. In many places, kids leave the school immediately after the lunch is served. Even the teachers are not making any efforts to stop them from doing so. The main reasons for this being the lack of sufficient number of teachers in the schools and the absence of the teachers from their duties. Although there are many problems with the mid-day meal scheme, still the kids belonging to agricultural and industrial labor families depend on the school completely for their lunch. They eat the food offered irrespective of its quality and cleanliness. Only when the Government and the officials work towards the goal of providing tasty and nutritious food to them, the mid-day meals scheme can be successful.
Other hard facts:
- The mid-day meal scheme was not implemented in Bollapalli mandal Hanumapuram school, Guntur Dist. because the Government did not pay bills to the self-help groups since last four months. The shopkeeper from whom the agencies were bringing the raw material for loan refused to give anymore. Every month the Government has to give one quintal of rice per month to the school but the officials gave one quintal for three months. Even in the last month, the mid-day lunch was not served due to insufficient rice.
- The mid-day scheme was not being implemented in the Keshapur primary school, Nizamabad Dist. since last four months. The attendance of the students was low and the Dwakra group here decided not to cook since the margins they make will not be profitable.
- The officials stopped supplying rice to the school in Baisa mandal Ilegam, Adilabad Dist. since August 3rd and the mid-day scheme came to a halt. Even in the month of July, the scheme was not implemented on four days.
- There is no water for the students to clean hands, wash the plates after the lunch in the school in Madakasira mandal N.R. Roppam, Ananthapur Dist. The students go home to clean their hands and wash the plates.
- In the school of Baheerabad mandal Navalga, Rangareddy Dist., with just 1 kilo of the dal, rasam was prepared that was to be served to 78 kids.
Mismanagement of rice by the middle-men:
The value of the rice that is being mismanaged by the middle-men is estimated to be 9 crores per year. The rice bags that will be supplied from the Indian Food Corporation will be stocked up in the Fair price shops (Ration shops). In the inspection of the MROs, the rice bags will be transferred to the schools. Once the rice bags reach the schools, it is found many times that the bag which should weigh 50 Kilos weigh only 45 Kilos. The headmasters and the women groups reported to the authorities this issue of less weighed rice bags being supplied but no action is being taken. There are accusations that there is involvement of people at all levels of administrative hierarchy in this scam. The central Government is supplying about 1.14 lakh tons of rice for the mid-day meal scheme. It is estimated that at least 10 percent of this quantity is going into the hands of these middle-men. The rice is supplied in gunny bags and without opening the bags, by means of the equipment used to check the quality of the rice, these middle-men are robbing the rice very cleverly. The Dwakra and the self-help groups are proposing that if the rice is supplied in plastic bags, these kinds of fraud can be decreased.
The mid-day meal scheme numbers:
Following the order by Supreme court, the mid-day meal program started state-wide on 2nd January 2003. All over the state, the scheme is being implemented in 72,829 schools which caters to about 73 lakh students. In many schools, there are no basic facilities to conduct the mid-day meals. In 58,333 schools, kitchens were not constructed. In 26,354 schools, there is no drinking water facility. For 31,351 schools, there is no gas connection sanctioned. For the year 2006-07, about one thousand kitchens are proposed for construction. Central Government alloted 11.40 lakh quintals of rice for the mid-day meal scheme. The state Government bears Rs. 240 crores while the central Government gives Rs 131 crores towards this rice expense. In cities like Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam and Tirupathi, the implementation of scheme is alloted to social service organizations. Only in these places, the scheme is being implemented properly. In rest of the places, its implementation is totally improper. Except for the namesake checks done, there is no in-depth study of the scheme at the level of higher officials.
The hardships of the Dwakra groups:
- In just Rs. 1.50, the entire meal needs to be provided.
The Government is boasting proudly that the mid-day meal program is implemented very well. But the reality is far from it. The Government thinks that its job is done once it releases the funds and the rice. The entire work of implementation of scheme came into the hands of Dwakra and the self-help groups. They are bearing with all the hardships and the losses incurred in the scheme. But the officials are not even co-operating with them to pay the bills in time. The funds released from the education department main office reach the DEOs first and then the MROs. But there is a lot of delay in releasing the funds at all levels. About 50 percent of the women groups told us that they need to get money of the bills from last four months. About 25 percent should get money for the last two months.Do you know what is the salary of the women groups who are running the scheme? ... Whatever they can save on the Rs. 1.50 alloted to each student. This is main reason for the poor quality of the scheme. Another reason being the untimely payment of the bills. If the number of students is less than 50, the Government is paying Rs. 2 per student. If the number is between 51 and 100, it will be Rs. 1.75 and above hundred it will be Rs. 1.50 per student. If the number of students is more than 100, the women groups should prepare the meals with just Rs. 1.50 per student. With the increasing prices of raw materials and the vegetables, it is practically impossible for the women groups to deliver quality food and also save money for their salaries. In many schools, they are using wood for cooking as they cannot afford the cooking gas. Though the Government increased the amount from Rs. 1.50 to Rs. 2 from the month of August, even this is not sufficient compared to the increasing prices. The price of dal which was between Rs. 18 and Rs. 20 per kilo at one time, now increased to Rs. 30 to Rs. 35. The price of tamarind is between Rs. 50 and Rs. 60 per kilo. The price of cooking oil is about Rs. 50 per kilo. They cannot afford to give egg twice a week as their prices increased. And the vegetables are getting expensive day by day. Therefore, the funds released by the Government are utterly insufficient.
The Government hoped that, in addition to providing nutritious food to the students, the mid-day meals program also helps in spreading communal harmony among students as they eat food together. But in the villages where the caste and creed differences are rooted from ages, this scheme is being ridiculed. Even now some of the families belonging to higher classes are not allowing their kids to eat the lunch provided in the scheme. Some of the students are going home for lunch under some pretext or the other and the rest are openly admitting that their parents asked them not to eat there. Some more students are brining the plates and also the water from home.
In Perapalla, Kurmiddha schools, Mahaboobnagar Dist. the students are eating lunch by sitting in different rows according to their caste. If the women cooking the food are from lower class, the students belonging to higher classes are eating lunch at home. In Khamman district, students are going home for eating saying that the agency women are cooking the food. In Sullupet mandal Peddapadava school, Nellore District, the students belonging to some sections of society are staying away from the mid-day meals program.