Elamanchili Simhachalam, mid-day meal organiser, at G. T. Peta in Mentada mandal laments that the scheme has pushed her into a debt trap. She has so far borrowed over Rs. 20,000 to feed schoolchildren. The government has not settled bills from August this year.
Majji Varalakshmi of Chodamma Agraharam in Poosapatirega mandal expressed inability to run the school kitchen because the sowcar on whom she depended till date for essentials refused to supply any more on credit.
Ijjirowthu Pydamma of Cheepurupalli borrowed Rs. 30,000 for effectively running the scheme. She said that though the government had not been releasing grants, district officials had been pressuring her to serve eggs twice in a week.
The government allocates 100 grams of rice per head in addition to Rs. 3 towards dal, vegetables and eggs. The cost of an egg in the open market now is Rs. 3.
Sources in the Education Department said that grants accumulated to the tune of Rs. 7 crores were pending for release since August. Of the sum, Rs. 90 lakhs only was released on Monday and it is being disbursed among the 2,717 implementing agencies in the district.
The scheme was launched seven years ago with an objective to improve literacy rate and check school dropout.
Even after seven years, basic facilities like kitchen sheds, clean drinking water, utensils and regular LPG supply were lacking.
According to CAG report submitted to the government, 22 per cent of the 72,829 schools in the State lacked drinking water facility, 84 per cent lacked gas connection and 67 per cent lacked kitchen sheds.
In Vizianagaram district, of the 2,860 schools, kitchen sheds are there in only 1,800 schools. They too are not equipped fully. The number of students covered under the scheme is 2.53 lakhs.
The implementing agencies have been protesting against non-release of funds regularly and settlement of bills pending for the last three months.
The only solace was the government announced honorarium of Rs.1,000 per month to an organiser. Even this too was not being paid regularly, said B. Sudha Rani, district secretary of the A. P. Mid-day meal workers’ union.
In fact, a team of DWCRA women is involved in the grinding task every day. And who should get the honorarium among them remained unresolved.
Considering the honorarium burdensome on the exchequer, the government had proposed centralised kitchens at each mandal headquarters and supply food packets to schools from there regularly.
The union members have been opposing the proposal and demanding that it be dropped immediately. Agencies implementing the scheme threatened to back out if corrective measures were not taken shortly.