Midday meal scheme in corruption controversy in Madhes districtsHundreds of students in Sarlahi and Rauthat have been deprived of their meals owing to alleged misuse of funds.
Om Prakash Thakur & Shiva Puri
Several community schools in at least two districts of Madhesh Province have not been able to resume the midday meal programme effectively post Covid-induced school closure.
The scheme has been mired in controversy and charges of corruption and irregularities in its implementation. The government introduced the scheme with aims to ensure hunger does not keep students away from school.
Mukesh Jha, the father of two children who attend Kabilasi Secondary School in Kalibasi Municipality Ward No 7 in Sarlahi, says his children were not given meals at school since the school reopened for the new academic year in May.
He alleges that the principal of the school and employees of the municipality in collusion have misused the midday meal programme funds leading to irregular meals for the students. “The people’s representatives also know of this but remain silent,” he said.
Parents of students attending community schools in Ishwarpur Municipality, home to 38 community schools, also accuse the local unit and the executives of the schools of misusing the funds.
Dinesh Luitel, chief of the municipality’s education unit, said the midday meal scheme was halted in the schools for 15 days before the end of the last fiscal year on July 16. “We will resume the programme in mid-August after the summer holidays,” he said.
Meanwhile, community schools in the northern part of Sarlahi have successfully restarted the scheme after a gap of almost two years.
Balgovind Secondary School in Kabilasi Municipality Ward No.1 and Haripur Primary School in Haripur Municipality Ward No 8 have resumed the programme.
The federal government provides Rs 15 per day to each student studying up to grade five in the province’s community schools through the local units. With this scheme, the government aims to provide nutritious diet to the children and control malnutrition in the province.
The community school midday meal programme is being run in 42 out of 77 districts in the country. While the government manages the programme in 33 districts, the World Food Programme funds midday meals for the children of select schools in nine districts.
Under the programme, the community schools should prepare nutritious foods for the children as per separate menus prepared by the Centre for Education and Human Resource Development, which mentions 60 different foods in its menu.
In Rautahat, schools and local units were found to have withdrawn money for the midday meal programme which has remained suspended throughout the school closure period.
According to the Auditor General's report for 2021, in the fiscal year 2019-20, Paroha Municipality spent more than Rs11 million on the midday meal programme; Fatuwa Bijaypur Municipality spent Rs9 million, Garuda Municipality Rs7 million, Durga Bhagwati Rural Municipality Rs 12 million; and Yamunamai Rural Municipality Rs7 million.
Paroha Municipality, home to 21 community schools, reportedly distributed cash directly to the parents of the students rather than providing meals at the school. The Auditor General’s report states that the municipality disbursed Rs11.7 million for the programme in the fiscal year 2020-21.
The midday meal programme was embroiled in controversy in Garuda Municipality with the then mayor of the municipality Innuray Yadav and deputy mayor Rangila Devi Jaiswal alleging each other of misuse of the programme funds.
There are 23 community schools in this municipality, including seven secondary schools.
According to Kanthamuni Jaiswal, the municipality’s incumbent mayor, the children of the school in the area were deprived of midday lunch for seven months. The programme was discontinued in mid-April last year and resumed in December. Nearly Rs 26 million budget allocated for the midday meal programme was frozen.
The 58th annual report of the Office of Auditor General states more than Rs 48.7 million from the midday lunch programme has been withdrawn by the Paroha, Fatuwa Bijaypur, Garuda, and Yamuna municipalities of Rautahat district against the rules by forging paperwork.
Bunilal Yadav, the then education coordinator of the Education Unit of Fatuwa Bijaypur Municipality, was also heavily criticised for withdrawing the lunch programme money when the schools were closed during the pandemic.