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Where is the food for children vanishing?

india Updated: Jun 12, 2008 01:49 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times
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More than a third of the foodgrains meant for mid-day meals for Delhi’s schoolchildren is going waste. Children are being served lesser food and fewer calories than they need, and massive amounts of taxpayers’ money are going down the drain.

Of the 11,080 tonnes of grain Delhi lifted from Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns in 2007-’08, 3,878 tonnes — a staggering 35 per cent — went waste, according to figures provided by the state government to the union Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry.

As a result, over 10.43 lakh primary schoolchildren were served just 65g of cooked food for every 100g of foodgrains lifted, adding up to only 300 calories — 50 calories fewer than stipulated under the central government’s mid-day meals scheme.

These figures were made available after the Hindustan Times put in an application under the Right to Information Act.

The wastage reported by Delhi is more than any other state. FCI norms, standardised to factor in problems of transportation and storage across the country, allow for a maximum wastage of 2 per cent, 17 times less than what Delhi has reported.

Most significantly, neither the Delhi government nor the MCD knows exactly where — or how — the grain disappeared, suggesting large-scale diversion into the retail market.

Delhi Education Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely expressed ignorance to the fact, even though education secretary Reena Ray admitted she knew about it at the Project Approval Board (PAB) meeting of the mid-day meal scheme in the HRD ministry on April 2.

Lovely passed the buck to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), which runs most of the primary schools in Delhi. But Delhi mayor Arti Mehra expressed her surprise at the claim and accused Lovely of politicising the issue. “I have eaten midday meal in schools and has found it to be satisfactory,” she said.

The Delhi government, in an e-mail response to the HRD ministry, explained that due to dust, foreign particles and transportation loss, even though 100 gm of food grain per child was being issued to contractors, the net quantity finally being made available was only 65 gm.

But FCI deputy general manager (sales) Rajesh Choudhary said his organisation had stated the wastage claimed by Delhi as excessively high.

Arun Kumar Rath, HRD ministry’s school education secretary, has asked the Delhi government to fix a ratio of the quantity of food grains provided to the contractors against cooked food served per child. “The contractor’s claim of such high percentage of wastage in food grains is not acceptable. ,” he said, at the PAB meeting.

Despite the request of the HRD ministry, no action-taken report on the issue has been submitted by the state government even two months after the meeting, ministry officials said.

HT spoke to some contractors and found the actual wastage was much less than the government projections. S.R Singh of Rashtriya Nirabal Uthan Sansthan, which serves mid-day meals in some north Delhi areas, said the wastage is only about 20 per cent.

Mohinder Singh of Bikaneri Foods, which supplies midday meal in the Ashok Vihar area of north Delhi, said the maximum wastage was about 12 per cent, and only in extreme cases it is about 20-25 per cent.

The HRD ministry suspects a large chunk of the amount shown as wastage regularly find its way into the open market. “A truck load of foodgrains found in Narela a few months ago was probably meant for midday meals,” a ministry official said.

The ministry information shows that the MDM monitoring system in Delhi is among the weakest in the country. Unlike in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, where a committee of mothers monitor the midday meal provided in schools, there is no monitoring mechanism in Delhi.

In Delhi, a committee headed by the principal of the school, with representatives from the parent-teacher organisation and two mothers monitor the scheme.

“None of the parent representatives visit schools to monitor the scheme regularly. Therefore, the responsibility is entirely with the school authorities,” noted a principal of a government school in north Delhi.