Government dragging its feet on increasing food subsidy

Underprivileged students in government-run hostels across the State may have to make do with frugal meals comprising only sambar and rice.

With the government dragging its feet on increasing food subsidy to students belonging to the backward classes, Scheduled Castes and Tribes the days of eggs, chicken and fish are all but over.

In the recent months, prices of essential commodities have gone up sharply, so have the prices of LPG gas – from Rs. 430 to nearly Rs. 1,000. However the subsidy has remained the same in the last two years – Rs. 750 for pre-matric hostels and Rs. 850 for post-matric.

The hostels run by the Social Welfare Department, which cater to the needs of the underprivileged children are the ones most affected.

This is in contrast to schemes like Akshara Dasoha (mid-day meals) and the Integrated Child Development Services (which provide for anganwadis) which have had their subsidies increased to accommodate the price hikes.

Attempts to downsize the menu evoked sharp protests from students forcing officials to restore the older, more sumptuous menu. But this may not last.

“We’re going beyond our budget for the past year. We still have not cleared bills for March and April,” said H.A. Ramu, Extension officer, Mangalore taluk, Backward Classes Department. The overdrawing is based on government’s increased allocation, which still hasn’t materialised for the last eight months.

“Besides, we have not received subsidised rice since April. If no funds are given, we’ll have to cut down on bananas, eggs, chicken and fish in the menu, probably mostly only rice and sambar. Tiffin items too will be frugal,” said a senior official. Currently, in Dakshina Kannada, eggs are given four times a week, chicken once a month and fish once a week.

H.V. Nagaraju, Hassan District Social Welfare Officer, said it would be difficult to provide food as per the revised price. “This is the problem in many districts. With approval from higher-ups and the Hassan Zilla Panchayat, we are procuring food grains from local merchants as per the old price chart”, the officer said.

The officer hoped that the State government would increase allotment to inmates (students) in its budget scheduled on July 12. “If the allotment is increased we can follow the menu”, he said. Hostel wardens said if cuts were enforced, the children would “revolt”. “No amount of explanations will calm them,” said Hemant Kumar, warden of the Ashoknagar post-matric hostel.

In March, students at the post-matric hostel in Konaje in Dakshina Kannada blockaded the hostel after locally-preferred boiled rice was replaced with white rice. “We were directed to take rice on subsidy from the government, and they supply only white rice. Children did not accept it,” said warden Shrikant Gunagar.

Mangalore District Social Welfare Officer Arun Furtado said it was impossible to manage with the current quota.

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