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While the Tamil Nadu state government is on an expansion mode strengthening the midday meals scheme for school students with breakfast, the cash-strapped neighbour Kerala is struggling to serve noon meal for its over 30 lakh students of government and aided schools up to 8th standard in the state. Being in charge of serving the noon meal, almost all head-teachers of schools are neck-deep in debt as they have been funding the project from personal resources for the last four months.
The origin of midday meals scheme can be traced back to pre-independence era. In Tamil Nadu, the scheme was launched in some Madras Corporation schools in 1920 to ensure enrolment of more children when Justice Party was in power. As a state-wise full-fledged scheme, it was championed by the Kamaraj Ministry in 1956. And during MGR reign it was systematized, attracting fanfare and criticism in 1982. Close on the heels of Tamil Nadu, Kerala also launched a scheme in 1984 which was gradually expanded to include more schools and more grades.
In Kerala, the symptoms of the collapse of the midday meal scheme have been haunting the schools for more than a year. The delay in pumping necessary funds to the scheme had badly hit almost all head-teachers of schools. In January the Kerala Government Primary School Headmasters’ Association (KGPSHA), an organization of head-teachers across political barriers, approached the High Court of Kerala seeking an order exempting them from the charge of providing noon meals to students as it is robbing their valuable time. HC had issued notice to the state government to submit its contentions on the same. It took almost six months for the state government to even file a reply at the court in which the government said that it would disburse the amount (Rs 130 Crore) it owes to head-teachers of schools as soon as possible.
The issue further grabbed wide media attention when a letter sent by a debt-ridden school headmaster J P Anish, the headmaster of Vidyadhiraja LP School, a government aided school at Karakulam in Thiruvananthapuram, to the education minister regarding his plight, went viral in social networking sites. Anish had taken a loan of Rs 2 lakh from the Co-operative Bank to pay shops providing vegetables and essentials for the mid-day meals in the school. In his letter he had intimated that he is planning to wind up midday meals in his school as he was unable to source funds for it.
In January the Kerala Government Primary School Headmasters’ Association (KGPSHA), an organization of head-teachers across political barriers, approached the High Court of Kerala seeking an order exempting them from the charge of providing noon meals to students as it is robbing their valuable time
Rare unity of teachers’ forums evolved
The crisis has brought together teachers’ unions as almost all senior teachers of schools are in deep financial trouble because of noon meals scheme. The teachers’ organizations across political barriers are all set to launch a series of agitations against the state government in front of the state secretariat at Thiruvananthapuram in the coming days.
The prominent teachers’ organizations joining hands in the stir are the Kerala Primary School Teachers’ Association (KPSTA), affiliated to Indian National Congress, Kerala School Teachers’ Association (KSTA), affiliated to CPM, United Teachers and Employees Federation (UTEF), a pro-UDF organization, and the All Kerala School Teachers Union (AKSTU).
The major demand raised by the organizations is to disburse the three months’ pending arrears for midday meals to schools on a war footing, to revise the 8-year old rate fixed for the scheme in tune with the changing cost for inputs and to ensure additional funds for ‘nutritious food scheme’ of the state government which includes milk (300 ml) and egg (1) a week.
The state government is still calculating the cost of each meal based on the rates of inputs fixed way back in 2016 when the prices were much lower. The noon meal is provided over 30 lakh students up to class 8 in the state. The government allots Rs 8 for each child per day for schools with 15 students and Rs 7 is paid for each additional child up to 500 students, while Rs 6 is given for each additional child above 500 students in schools. Though the education department had requested the Finance Department to increase the rate which was fixed in 2016, by Rs 4, so far no action has been taken. The schools have demanded that the education department should provide transport costs, cost of cooking gas, additional amount for the ‘nutritious food scheme’ as there was no exclusive fund allotted for the same.
The noon meal is provided over 30 lakh students up to class 8 in the state. The government allots Rs 8 for each child per day for schools with 15 students and Rs 7 is paid for each additional child up to 500 students, while Rs 6 is given for each additional child above 500 students in schools
Funded partially by centre, the sharing ratio of the expenditure for implementing the scheme between the Centre and the State is 60:40. What is infuriating to the teachers’ organizations is the lackadaisical attitude of the state government as the Centre’s share of 60 percent cost of the ‘noon meal scheme’ has not yet been disbursed since the state government has failed to furnish the details of the total number of students benefiting from the scheme to the central government, in time. It was only when the teachers launched an agitation that the state government has moved to communicate to the centre.
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