Lucknow: With government schools in Uttar Pradesh shut for more than six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lakhs of students in the state still await a regular supply of dry rations as promised by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in lieu of the Mid Day Meal Scheme.
Ever since the lockdown was enforced, children, who were being provided with a diet which included milk, vegetables and cereals – as per the menu in schools – have been deprived of it with schools being shut. Six months later, a large portion of children are still without the meals, and children from slums and backward regions of UP are the worst-affected.
The HRD Ministry had asked all states to make arrangements to either deliver food grains or cooked meals to the homes of the beneficiaries, or deposit money in their parents’ accounts, until such time as schools remain shut. However, many students in districts like Sonbhadra, Chandauli, Bahraich, Gorakhpur, Gonda and Deoria said they had either not received rations at all, or had received it only once in the last few months.
Pradeep Kumar, a teacher at the primary school in Shiltham village in Sonbhadra district, has been going to the school over the past three months. “Sarkar ka aadesh aayega tabhi to diya jaayega mid-day meal ya ration (We can only provide mid day meals or rations when we get directives from the government). The kids must get their meals as their condition is pathetic in Sonbhadra, which is a tribal belt. The majority of people are either from Scheduled Caste (SC) communities or are Scheduled Tribes (STs), and are poor,” he said.
When asked the current situation of kids and their families, Pradeep said that the nutritious diet once given to school students is not available to them at the moment. “Most of their parents eke out a living by working as domestic help or by selling vegetables. They’re unable to provide for their offspring, as they are struggling to make ends meet,” he said, adding that the situation in neighbouring districts like Babhani is worse.
Kailash, the principal of Ps Chakiya-Ii Primary School (PCPS) in Dilkusha, Chandauli district, echoed similar sentiments. The children at government primary school have been deprived of mid-day meals since July. “From March 14 to June 30 – aside from gazetted holidays and Sundays – we distributed rations to every student enrolled in my school. According to my calculation, 7.6 kgs of foodgrain was given to each students; two kgs of wheat and five kilos of rice. However, for the last six months (April to September), we have not got any directions from the government to distribute ration,” he said.
"Even Kotedar (distributor) also says that he is running short of ration as they distributed much more than what government data said, as the number of students was greater than anticipated. As a result, things are sluggish here,” another teacher told NewsClick.
A meeting of the Programme Approval Board-Mid-Day Meal (PAB-MDM) was held in New Delhi through video conferencing on May 14. During the discussions, the state requested approval for providing Food Security Allowance to all 1,24,54,832 enrolled children in primary and 57,38,832 children in upper primary school for 32 days, during summer vacations in 2020-21. The request was granted.
In a directive shared with district elementary education officers, the government asked them to deposit money for cooking costs to eligible students into their bank accounts, and provide them dry ration as well. On a daily basis, 150 grams of wheat and 100 grams of rice are to be provided to students. The cooking cost per child is Rs 4.97 for primary schoolers and Rs 7.45 for those from upper primary. The monthly cooking cost is calculated based on the number of working days.
NewsClick also spoke to a dozen students and their parents to understand the ground reality and the government’s statements. They said that the government is doing nothing to ensure that their children get proper nutrition.
Five-year-old Sneha Gupta, a student of class two and a mid-day meal beneficiary, who studies in Adarsh Primary School in Paina village of Deoria district, said she had neither received dry ration nor cooking costs. “Not a single student in the village collected ration nor a penny of the meal cost. We did not receive anything,” said Sneha.
Amulya Kumar, a student of a primary school in Bahraich district has a similiar story. “We are in dire need of rations as my father, who was a migrant worker in Mumbai, returned after the lockdown was imposed. We met our school teachers and also ran from pillar to post to avail rations but did not get anything,” he said.
Sucheta considers herself lucky that she got the ration at least one. “Officials had distributed dry ration comprising rice, dry milk powder, and some pulses in April, but not after that. Most people we know have also received it only once. We have not received any money either,” she said.