Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his ministers keep talking about their initiatives to make the state an educational hub with “infrastructure of international standards”, but the situation on the ground paints a somewhat different picture.
The state government, which has spent crores of rupees on projecting Haryana as the number one state in the country, is among the worst performing states in creating basic infrastructure for cooking meals for lakhs of children of Classes 1 to 8 in government schools in the state.
The Centre gave Rs 117 crore to the state government in the past six years under the Centrally sponsored flagship mid-day meal (MDM) scheme for the construction of 11,483 kitchen-cum-stores for “supply of healthy, hygienic and hot cooked meal to children and also safe storage of foodgrains at the school level”.
The state has, however, been sluggish in construction work, building kitchen-cum-stores in only about a third of the sanctioned schools.
The state government has constructed 4,076 units, while the work for the construction of another 2,706 kitchen-cum-stores is “in progress”. The school education department, which is the nodal department for the implementation of the MDM programme, is still to start the construction of sanctioned kitchen-cum-stores in 4,701 (41%) government schools in the state.
“The pace of construction is slow and needs urgent attention. The state should work out a plan for the completion of construction of all kitchen-cum-stores during the current financial year,” Amarjit Singh, joint secretary (mid-day meal), in the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) wrote to the state government on June 22.
The central ministry has listed Haryana among the laggard states in the construction of kitchen-cum-stores.The other states, where less than half the sanctioned schools have been constructing the cooking-cum-storage units, include Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Jharkhand and Odisha.
In contrast, Haryana’s neighbouring states Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have fared much better. Punjab, which is often compared with Haryana, is among the best performing states, having constructed kitchen-cum-stores in 16,015 (84%) of the 18,969 sanctioned government schools, according to the MHRD data, as on March 31, 2012.
The construction work is in progress in another 2,430 government schools in the state. Similarly, the HP government has constructed the cooking-cum-storage units in 11,673 primary and middle schools against 14,959 sanctioned schools.
In Haryana, foodgrains are stored in classrooms, staffrooms and offices in the government schools without adequate safeguards in the absence of kitchen-cum-stores. Similarly, cooking is done in classrooms or in open, uncovered area in schools. An inspection carried out by Kurukshetra University, appointed by the MHRD for monitoring the implementation of the flagship programme in the state, had, in 2011, pointed out shortcomings in the storage of foodgrains storage and cooking in government in schools in the state.
Abhe Singh Yadav, director, elementary education, attributed the delay to price escalation and the resultant gap in the revised cost of construction and the availability of funds made by the union ministry. “The ministry was requested for funds as per the new rates. There is a separate engineering wing which does construction work. We hope to construct the remaining units in 2012-13,” he said.
Despite the delay in providing proper infrastructure for food storage and cooking, the state seems to have done well in the coverage of children under the scheme. The department provided cooked mid-day meal to 98% children enrolled in primary and upper primary classes in the year gone by.
In 2011-12, over 21 lakh children of primary and upper primary classes were served meal in 15,596 government schools in the state.