School principals had spent personal funds to ensure mid-day meals were continued

Several primary and secondary government schools discontinued the Mid-Day Meals (MDM) without prior notice in Khunti district, 30 km from here, as the administration in at least 29 schools had not received food grains or funds as per schedule.

This is the second time in the past year that schools in Khunti have discontinued MDM, even as officials said 400 metric tonnes rice were available in the district schools —three times the district’s requirement. Several school staff had earlier reported that they had tried to continue the MDM scheme for months purchasing provisions on personal credit.

“In the financial year 2011-12, receipts and utilisation certificates were not submitted by education department officials on time and over Rs. 50 lakh funds lapsed. Officials tried to tide over with ad-hoc measures and requests to Food Corporation of India but the pendency recurs,” said a senior district official declining to be named. “Now too, we alerted the primary education department two weeks but there was no response,” the officer added.

The Jharkhand government provides MDM to over 35 lakh children in primary and secondary schools. Schools are allotted food grains from godowns at the block level and all schools receive an amount every three months called the “conversion cost” — funds to buy other ingredients, for transportation, paying cooks’ wages of Rs. 1,000/month, and for fuel. Besides rice, every student should get dal everyday and an egg every week for which funds are allotted at Rs. 3.51/day for students of class I to V and Rs. 5.25 for students of class VI to VIII.

A survey of 13 rural schools in Khunti in January by NREGA Sahayata Kendra researchers Pallavi Raonka and Manisha Marulasiddappa in January revealed that although food grains reached on time, because of irregular and unpredictable transfer of funds for “conversion costs”, all school principals had spent personal funds, with the average being Rs. 13,997, to ensure that MDM were continued,. Principals in Bhandra and Anigadha village reported that even with delays in receiving funds, they had continued the MDM by buying provisions on credit over several months because they saw it as an incentive for children to attend school. The survey reported that Anigadha’s school principal had incurred a debt of over Rs. 1.5 lakh since last year.

“We have not received any reports of schools buying provisions on credit. There were some problems in supply of provisions but we have asked for help from Food and Civil Supplies Department and we expect the situation to resolve this week,” said Mamta, Director, Primary Education that supervises the Rs. 500-crore MDM scheme in Jharkhand.

“Some schools have food grains and others do not. Because of the difficult terrain and tight budgets, it is not possible to transfer provision from one school to another easily but we resolved the shortages in nine schools today [Thursday] and the meals should resume in the other 20 schools on Friday,” said Khunti’s District Collector Mukesh Kumar.

“It is not just Khunti. We found anganwadis and schools running on credit in Deoghar, Pakur, Jamtara districts as well,” said Balram, State advisor to commissioner to Supreme Court in the Right to Food case.