A central government review found Uttar Pradesh's award-winning system for supervising delivery of mid-day meals to millions of schoolchildren to be flawed with several schools fudging the numbers.
The human resource development ministry survey revealed that institutes were significantly overstating the number of students who receive these free lunches, designed to improve the nutritional status of children, on schooldays.
The UP government in 2010 started the phone-based monitoring system for all of its 1.5 crore schools to create a real-time database on the number of mid-day meals served every day.
Under this mechanism, which won many awards including a Unicef special recognition prize, headmasters of government-run schools receive automated phone calls asking them to report the number of mid-day meals served to students.
The headmasters punch in the appropriate numbers and this data is then uploaded into a software programme that generates daily monitoring reports, allowing senior government officers to scrutinise the process, in real time, across the state.
The survey found, for instance, that a school in Shravasti district reported the number of students served mid-day meals as 145, 160 and 160 on three consecutive days when the actual figures were 106, 123 and 108 respectively.
The findings, which were part of the joint review mission (2013-14) carried out by the HRD ministry, were discussed at a meeting of education secretaries in the Capital last month with the ministry asking the UP government to file an action-taken report at the earliest.
The central team visited seven districts - Sitapur, Rampur, Shravasti, Kanpur Urban, Farrukhabad, Firozabad and Moradabad.
Recommending measures to plug the loopholes in the system, which was to be adopted at the national level, the reviewers said that the mechanism should be able to verify the data entered by school representatives.
The report said the phone numbers of village panchayats may be collected and, every week, some of the sample data collected through the system may be shared with members of panchayats and village education committees through SMSes. There's also a proposal to set up call centres where these village representatives can report any discrepancies.