SCHOOLS ACROSS Maharashtra resumed classes almost a month ago but several of them, particularly in rural areas, are yet to provide midday meals to students. Reason: a delay in distribution of raw material and loopholes in the process.
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The issue is now heating up with local officials in at least two districts – Wardha and Aurangabad – ordering schools to make their own temporary arrangements to provide the meals, prompting the state teachers’ association to approach the Directorate of Primary Education for a solution.
“In rural areas, the complete raw material is provided by the government after which take the responsibility of cooking and serving the food. The foodgrains provided earlier have been distributed already to children as per orders till March 14. Now we have no raw material to cook food, “Vijay Kombe, a zilla parishad school teacher from Wardha who is secretary of the Maharashtra State Primary Teachers’ Association, told The Indian Express.
The midday meal scheme, which provides nutritious food to children studying in government, was suspended during the pandemic due to closure of schools. However, with schools continuing to remain shut for long, the children were given foodgrains from August 2021. Last month, it was announced that cooked meals would be provided again in schools from March 15.
While schools in cities rely on contracts with providers, those in rural areas are still waiting for raw material. Referring to orders issued in the two districts, Kombe said: “The funny part is schools have been ordered to temporarily arrange raw material on the promise that whatever is procured from the market will be restocked by the government later. How is this a practical process? Which retailer will give us foodgrain to be restocked later by the government? “
In urban areas, where self-help groups or centralized kitchen services provide midday meals, the situation is different.
“Schools with contracts have started receiving food but on a credit basis. These self-help groups or centralized kitchens are running a business and don’t have to depend on the government for raw material. They are given government grants to provide food in schools. Due to this, some schools in urban areas, such as Mumbai, Thane and Pune, have started receiving midday meals, but not all urban areas, ”said Mahendra Ganpule, spokesperson for the state headmasters’ association.
However, several school teachers questioned the quality of food. “Since this business takes place on credit, the quality of food provided is never questioned. This ambiguity opens gaps for corruption since, in urban areas, this meal is not really a motivating factor for enrolment as in rural areas, ”a teacher said.
When contacted, Dinkar Temkar, Director of Education (Primary), acknowledged the delay in distribution of material. “Raw foodgrain distribution was started during the pandemic. This is still going on in some places and after that, new batches of raw food material distribution will start. We are keeping a constant track of the situation, ”Temkar said.
“In urban areas, where grants are given to centralized kitchens instead of raw material, the serving of food has begun in some places. But in rural areas, the schools depend entirely on the raw material provided by the government, ”the senior official said.