Potatoes are the flavour of the season for schools in Punjab, and it’s not quite sweet. The education department has directed government and aided schools to purchase 50 days’ stock of potatoes from local farmers for the midday meal scheme. This is weighing heavily on the institutes and no cold storage is available and consumption is running into tonnes.
For instance, in Ludhiana district alone, two lakh students take midday meals every day. Rules say 40 grams of potato a day should be allocated to each primary student and 60 grams to each upper primary student. This roughly translates into 10,000 kg a day.
This scale of buying may bring relief to farmers who are getting impatient and facing losses due to a glut. Schools’ midday meal accounts, however, are running low, and the fresh orders will add to the trouble, sources said.
The letter from the Ludhiana district education officer (DEO) sent to schools earlier this week says more potatoes are consumed in midday meals, hence schools should buy them in advance. Midday meal in-charge, Ludhiana, Gulzar Shah confirmed, “On the directions from head office at Chandigarh and the additional deputy commissioner (general), we have directed schools to purchase a stock of potatoes for 50 days from local farmers. Block managers have been asked to collect details of total potatoes purchased by the schools for midday meal scheme in March.” Demand would thus be calculated.
The general manager of the state midday meal cell, Prabhcharan Singh also felt students consumed more potatoes than other vegetables. “Schools can buy from the farmer at a lower price at Rs 5 per kg, even though the market rate is Rs 8 to 10 per kg,” he said.
When asked how schools would get the money to buy potates, Shah said, “We have transferred funds to the schools and they are facing no problems in running this scheme.” A school principal, requesting anonymity, however, claimed, “We are getting no advance funds to run this scheme. To give relief to farmers, they are putting burden on schools, which is not right.”