TMC clarifies after order on schools triggers storm
The BJP, which has been persistently attacking the Trinamool Congress for alleged appeasement of Muslims, panned the Mamata Banerjee government over the move which, it claimed, was aimed at securing the ruling party’s vote bank.Updated: Jun 29, 2019 09:40 IST
Caught in a political firestorm over its proposal to build dining halls in schools having over 70% minority students, the West Bengal government on Friday clarified that they were “for the benefit of all” and the move was not intended to discriminate between students on the basis of religion.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had raised a ruckus after the June 25 circular issued by the state minority affairs department sought proposals from schools to build dining halls to serve midday meals. The parties had questioned whether there was any “mala fide motive” behind this “segregation” of students.
The BJP, which has been persistently attacking the Trinamool Congress for alleged appeasement of Muslims, panned the Mamata Banerjee government over the move which, it claimed, was aimed at securing the ruling party’s vote bank.
Moving into damage control mode, chief minister Banerjee told reporters in her chamber in the Assembly on Friday: “It (the circular) was not supposed to divide students. This was supposed to be for schools which don’t have dining halls, for schools where students eat in the open. It was meant for all.”
Minority affairs minister Gias Uddin Molla defended the decision by citing an education budget crunch and stating that his department could sanction funds for projects only in minority dominated areas.
“Since the school education department budget was falling short, the CM advised that minority affairs and backward classes welfare departments should use their funds in areas dominated by minorities and backward classes, while school education department’s funds will be utilised in the rest of the areas,” he said.
Later in the day, the government issued a statement, saying “...similar critical gap funding for, inter alia, infrastructure development of schools in areas with more that 25% minority population is also provided by the Government of India’s ministry of minority affairs.”
The issue of such dovetailing of funds has to be seen in the “right context”, the statement said. It added that to implement the midday meal scheme and create related infrastructure in staterun schools, the government pools funds from budgets of education-related departments.
The BJP, however, refused to buy the government’s argument. Union animal husbandry minister Giriraj Singh said, “What Mamata Banerjee is doing is extreme appeasement of the minority community. She cannot tolerate those who chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ but Rohingya infiltrators are acceptable to her.”
But CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty claimed Banerjee had assured him the circular would be withdrawn.
“I told her that any kind of division between children based on caste, religion or gender is unacceptable and that we will be forced to launch an agitation if the circular is not withdrawn,” he said.
This year, the state school education department has allocated about ~200 crore for construction of dining halls under the midday meal scheme in 4,647 primary and 1,524 upper primary schools.
First Published: Jun 29, 2019 09:22 IST