Sunday, September 29, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Mid-day meal: DCs await cash
P.P.S. Gill
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 28
Punjab is in a tizzy. This time over the mid-day meal scheme for primary school children.

This scheme is to be implemented all over the country. The November 28, 2001 order of the Supreme Court says so. Earlier, every primary school student was to be provided with 100 gm wheat or rice for a minimum of 200 days in a year free of cost. Later the children were to be given a cooked meal with a minimum of 300 calories and 8 gm to 12 gm proteins.

The states did not have the money and the Centre did not assist. The matter was taken up by the states with the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Human Resource Development leading to delay in filing affidavits by states, including Punjab.

The transportation of dry ration from the FCI depots to schools, its storage, weighing, cooking distribution, maintenance of accounts was to be done by teachers who were reluctant.

Punjab has now geared up to implement the scheme. According to the Principal Secretary, School Education, Mr K K Bhatnagar, to begin with a pilot project will be launched shortly in 17 blocks; one in each district. The scheme will initially be for 50 days. The cost worked out to Rs 3.50 per meal will entail an expense of Rs 2.53 crore. For the entire year, covering all schools in 17 blocks for the prescribed minimum 200 days, the cost works out to be Rs 10,13,35,100. The cost for all primary schools in 138 blocks at this rate (Rs 3.50 per meal) is estimated at Rs 82, 26,02,576.

Mr Bhatnagar says that the ‘’pilot’’ project in primary schools of 17 blocks will cover 144,765 children. Since Punjab is different from other states in dietary habits and there are no takers for ‘’dry ration’’ of wheat and rice and also due to practical difficulties encountered, effort at providing cooked meals was made earlier but it did not succeed.

The earlier estimates were that implementation of mid-day meal would involve Rs 241.12 crore, per annum, as non-recurring expenditure for kitchen, stores, utensils etc and Rs 142.40 crore, per annum, for ‘’value addition etc. for preparation of ready to-serve-and-eat meal. ‘’We have reasonably revised the financial requirement while maintaining prescribed calorie and protein requirements. The annual cost will now vary from Rs 57 crore to Rs 98 crore. It will involve a recurring expenditure of Rs 60 crore to Rs 70 crore (down from Rs 142.4 crore) and non-recurring expenses at Rs 40 crore (against Rs 241.12 crore)’’, says Mr Bhatnagar.

Punjab also looked to other states, as to how the scheme was being implemented. Besides neighbouring Haryana, patterns followed in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Orissa etc were studied. There department of social welfare was handling the scheme. These states had also explored possibility of funding the scheme under the poverty alleviation programme, rural development schemes etc.

Mr Bhatnagar says that the Chief Secretary, Mr Y.S. Ratra, has held review meetings and details of the ways and means to implement the mid-day meal scheme have been circulated to all deputy commissioners, who will be nodal officers. Steering and monitoring committees have been set up down from state to village level. Senior officers have been allotted blocks for supervision.

Besides, he says, with the help of dieticians from the medical colleges, a set of 24 meal-menus were prepared and ultimately some short-listed. The task of implementation, as an experiment, is now being entrusted to the urban and village-level education development committees, which will invite tenders/quotations from NGOs or voluntary social organisations etc. For preparing the meal. The stipulated cost has to be up to Rs 3.50 per meal. The prepared meal must have a shelf life of 15 days and preferably consumed within seven days.

The selected prepared meals include simple ‘’dal-roti or paushtik ahar or pinnis, panjeeri or rice ladoos, rice and nutrition palao or soybean and moong dal khichri, rice-dal or halwa etc.’’

Based on the experience of the pilot scheme, Punjab would file an interim affidavit in the Supreme Court. The scheme is slated to be put into practice any day. Though Rs 2.53 crore, have been sanctioned, it has actually not been made available to the deputy commissioners.


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