Headmasters of 251 primary schools in Bihar’s Araria district, 322 km north east of Patna, have been fined after annual assessments detected that midday meal (MDM) was being served to about two lakh ghost students.
Admitting gross irregularities in the implementation of the MDM scheme, district programme officer (DPO) Subhash Gupta said fine of Rs 61.68 lakh had been slapped on 251 headmasters and 70% of them had already deposited amount. “The fine amount per headmaster ranges from Rs 20, 000 to Rs 1 lakh,” he said.
Stern action would be taken against those who had not deposited fine yet, said Gupta, who is in-charge of the MDM scheme in Araria.
Under MDM, a Central government programme designed to improve the nutritional status of school-age children nationwide, students of primary and upper primary classes in government and government aided schools are provided free lunch on working days.
Regarding the allegations of block education officers’ involvement in the irregularities, Gupta said he had not received any written complaints against them.
The irregularities came to light recently when it was found during the annual assessment that out of 5.5 lakh students enrolled in 2080 primary schools of the district, two lakh were fake. “The two lakh students, who were shown to being served midday meal , had never attended schools. Most of them either did not exist or were pursuing studies somewhere else,” said an official of district education office.
An “erring” headmaster said he had been made a scapegoat in the case. “While the real culprits have been spared, I had to deposit the fine from my hard earned money,” he said.
This is not the first case of irregularities in schemes related to the education department in Araria district.
Recently, a block education officer was suspended and an FIR was lodged against him and 14 other persons, including headmasters and middlemen, for their alleged irregularities in distribution of scholarships to scheduled caste and tribe students in Kursakanta block of the district.