With the release of funds up to October 2013, the midday meal scheme, a component of the central government's flagship programme Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, is back on track in the district.
In 2012-13, the district was among the 144 poor-performing districts identified by the union ministry of human resource development across the country.
A total of 63,010 students up to middle level are enrolled to have meals at 842 kitchens in the district, wherein 1,431 cooks prepare the food.
“Last year, delay in payments to school heads led to widespread resentment among teachers. Nearly all teachers pitched in from their personal savings to carry forward the scheme. But, there is a limit to everything. The fund-crunch had affected the scheme badly,” said Sucha Singh, president of the district unit of democratic teachers' front.
This reporter visited Government Elementary School at Villa Kothi village and the local Kapurthala Government Senior Secondary School (girls) for a ground report.
“We have received funds to meet the expenses of implementing the scheme till October. If the authorities continue to release grants on time, students will be able to get quality food,” said Gurjit Singh, in charge of the Villa Kothi school.
He said: “Last year, though the government failed to release grants, we continued the scheme for nearly two months. At schools such as ours, which are situated in backward areas, nutritious food plays a major role in attracting students as well as parents,” Singh said.
At the Kapurthala school, to mark the occasion of Sankrati on Thursday, students were being offered more than what was mentioned in the menu. “We check our kitchens, which are adequately equipped and hygienic, regularly to monitor the preparation and quality of food. Till now, we have not received even a single complaint against being served less than the prescribed menu,” said Som Nath, district mid-day meal manager.
Gurmukh Singh Baba, a teacher, said: “The situation has improved at all blocks of the district. If the schools get payments in advance, things will become a lot easier for everyone. Advance payments won't be a hassle for the government as it has all details of the students enrolled and the number of cooks recruited for the purpose.”
Sudesh Sharma, a social activist, said: “The administration should continue having representatives of NGOs and social workers in the district education development committees to keep a check on the scheme. Though the practice was in place till last year, it was stopped this year.”
Deputy commissioner Daljit Singh Magat patted his back for keeping the scheme operational despite receiving threats from various unions regarding discontinuing it due to non-release of payments in July 2013.
“In a day or two, the situation was brought back to normal in the entire district. The scheme's progress is reviewed every month. We will soon examine all cooks medically to ensure hygienic food for students.”
Numbers that count
Students enrolled: 63,010
(From April 2013 to October 2013)
Cooking Cost: Rs. 2.52 crore
Remuneration of Cooks: Rs. 1.02 crore
(From April 2012 to March 2013)
Rs 4.27 crore
Rs 1.71 crore