ANDHRA PRADESH

Financial crunch hits mid-day meal scheme

Special Correspondent

TIRUPATI: The mid-day meal scheme launched by the NTR Government and continued subsequently by successive Governments appear to be folding up in Chittoor district, perhaps as in the rest of the State, if reports coming in from the districts are any indication.

The district administration is said to be floundering to keep the pot boiling, literally, as the DWCRA groups which have been entrusted with the task have either already backed-out or are in the process of doing it in the next few days in view of their unpaid bills for the last four months.

The scheme is supposed to be under implementation in 4,854 schools in the district. But according to reports the ground reality is that in most schools the women SHGs, which have been running the show, have given up in view of mounting arrears and reluctance on the part of `local sources' to provide any more hand loans to let them run the show.

Only `rasam' meals

Reports also indicate that some have been serving students for the last few days, only `rasam' meals in view of the fund crunch. What is further compounding the problem is the skyrocketing of vegetable prices. It is needless to make any special mention about the missing boiled egg in their menu, for obvious reasons.

Another problem is the scarcity of LPG cylinders, which forced many SHGs to switch back to the conventional firewood ovens.

As most schools lack separate kitchens, classrooms were converted into makeshift kitchen-cum-dining halls.

No water

Further lack of drinking water facility in most schools has been forcing students to carry water bottles to drink and wash.

According to reports, though the District Collector sent an SOS to the Government nearly half-a-dozen times to rush Rs. 5 crores to clear the arrears and to run the scheme for at least a few more months, there has been no response so far. But still the Collector managed to run the show for some time by reportedly diverting about Rs. 1.5 crores to clear the pending bills of at least some of the SHGs. Against this situation the fate of the mid-day meal scheme is said to be hanging in balance in the district.