New Delhi: Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government is increasingly facing the heat over its handling of primary schools in the state, especially with regard to serving nutritious mid-day meals. Now, the government is once again in the news after a primary school principal, along with an assistant teacher, went absent for 18 days, as a result of which children were not served the mandatory mid-day meals during that period.
As it is, the children of Gangaganj primary school at Harchandpur block in Rae Bareli district, around 80 kilometres from state capital Lucknow, are attending the school without any teachers. There is only one shiksha mitra (assistant teacher) in this primary school.
When asked, Rajveer, a resident in Rae Bareli district, said: "No meal has been served to the students for 18 days since Gandhi Jayanti, but we don't have an issue. Our prime concern is the education being imparted by the school. My child cannot compete with students of his age group who are studying in other schools. A 10-year-old child cannot even write words properly. This is a matter of concern, and in-between the school principal and others were absent,” adding that this was not the first time that the school principal was absent and that it was a “routine affair.”
Narrating the sorry plight of poor children in the district, Rajveer said: "In village after village, children who should be in school are found working with their relatives, helping in weeding operations or cutting cattle feed. Children in dalit-dominated villages seem more poverty-stricken than in villages with larger percentage of upper caste residents,” adding that “we do not have money to arrange for food, how can send our children to private schools?”
Meanwhile, after outrage over mid-day meals not being served for 18 days, PN Singh, the Basic Education Officer of the district, got an inquiry done and found the complaint to be correct. Following this, the headmaster has been reportedly suspended, while the assistant teacher has proceeded on medical leave, as per reports.
However, after journalist Pawan Jaiswal, who exposed the roti-salt mid-day meal being served at a primary school in Mirzapur, was booked under charges of cheating and criminal conspiracy, there has been no change in the situation in various primary schools in the state, with questions being raised on the quality of education and food served in government schools despite crores being invested.
In another case recently, the UP government was embarrassed after a video purportedly showing children of a primary school being served 'haldi-chawal' (turmeric and rice broth) as mid-day meal went viral on social media.
In May, there were a number of reports on severe shortcomings in 40 government primary schools in Barabanki district with regard to mid-day meals.
Newsclick, too, had accessed the data provided by the government and found a huge scam in mid-day meal. The data suggest about 1.8 crore students are enrolled in government primary schools in Uttar Pradesh, including local bodies school, government-aided schools and madrasas. But only 57% of students availed mid-day meals (1.02 core).
The state and Central governments have made several interventions to address the problem of poor nutrition, including the State Nutrition Mission, ICDS and the National Nutrition Mission with an approved three-year budget of Rs 9,000 crore. Yet nothing seems to be adding up.