Preparation of food in the open, engaging children for cooking and use of empty paint containers to serve meals are some of the shocking instances the country’s top audit watchdog CAG has found while inspecting schools running the Mid-Day Meal scheme.
Despite the scheme existing for more than a decade, the government is yet to establish a dependable system for its evaluation, the latest audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General said.
The report, which incorporates audit reviews for 19 states in the last five years, has also pointed out several deficiencies in infrastructural facilities for the scheme.
“Despite release of funds by the government of India for kitchen-cum-stores, the state governments and implementing agencies failed to release these funds on time. This resulted in improper storage of food and cooking of meals in classrooms or open spaces in 14 states,” the report said.
These States were Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Orissa, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, according to the report.
It also noted lack of adequate utensils, gas stoves and potable water for cooking and drinking in test-checked schools in 12 States.
In Andhra Pradesh, 95 per cent of Central funds released in 2007-08 for building kitchen sheds remained unutilised as of March 2008, the report said. Food being cooked in the open was a regular feature across States leading to several cases of food poisoning, the report said.
“In Orissa, during test check it was observed that 92 per cent of the schools did not have kitchen sheds,” it noted.
In Uttar Pradesh, many test-checked schools did not have sufficient utensils. “In primary schools at Lohari, Jhansi district, empty paint containers were used for serving meals,” according to the report.
“In West Bengal, during 2004-05, cooked meals were served to only 63 per cent of the targeted days,” it said.
Surprise visits by the audit teams to 42 urban schools in seven test-checked districts of the State in September 2007 disclosed that 227 students in five schools did not take meals while 29 teachers and cooks used to take the meals.
“Further, 418 outside children, not studying in the school, consumed meal in 18 schools on the day of surprise visit by audit.”
The report also noted that despite guidelines to the contrary, teachers were actively involved in receipt of foodgrains, procurement of vegetables, cooking and serving of meals, thereby compromising on teaching hours.
“In Uttar Pradesh, children of six primary schools were involved in cooking mid-day meal adversely affecting their studies,” it said. The schools are situated in Ballia, Ghazipur, Jhansi, Rae Bareli and Shahjahanpur.