Delay in revising fund allocation may hit school mid-day meal scheme hard

Representational Image
Representational Image

Rajakumari: Paucity of funds may scupper the popular noon meal scheme in schools across Kerala. Even as the prices of vegetables and groceries shoot up, there has been no increase in the funds allotted for buying them. The schools are being allotted the same rate that was fixed in 2016.

The Education Department promised to revise the rates after Onam soon after teachers’ associations affiliated with the opposition parties launched protests. However, new rates are yet to be announced reportedly owing to strong objection from the Finance department.

As of now, the students from classes one through eight are being given free noon meals at State-run schools. It is also being hinted that the Government may implement the Khader Committee report which recommends including students until Higher Secondary classes under the free noon meal scheme.

The funds allotted for one day’s noon meal at present is Rs 8 each for up to 150 students: Rs 7 for each additional child if there are student beneficiaries are more than 150 but not beyond 500. If more than 500 are to be given mid-day meals, the schools would be allotted Rs 6 each for additional students.

Teachers at their wits' end 

As per the directions from the Education Department, the noon meal must include dishes cooked using vegetables. It is mandatory that two dishes must be served using the lentils/pulses and vegetables recommended by the Department. A child should be served 150 ml of milk twice a week and an egg once every week. On days that eggs and milk are served to the children, the head teachers are to find funds for the other dishes.

As firewood stoves must not be used in schools, LPG stoves are being used for cooking. The steep rise in the price of LPG cylinders has also left the teachers in charge of the noon meal scheme in a lurch. 

Each child is allotted an average of Rs 40 per week for the noon meal scheme. This includes every expense incurred - the cooking expense, and the cost of the grocery and vegetables procured -  except rice. This is not sufficient for anything.

Difficulty in drawing money too

The schools are being given funds for the noon meals through the Public Finance Management System (PFMS). Earlier, the head teachers could withdraw the money that is credited to the account. Now, the funds are to be transferred from the Head teacher’s account to the grocer, egg and milk vendors. The pay order slip named PPA is to be filled and directly submitted at the Canara Bank branch for the same.

In the Idukki district, Canara Bank branches are there only in Adimaly, Thodupuzha, Kattappana and Murikkassery. Several headmasters have to travel up to 40 km to reach these branches from the high-range areas of Idukki.

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