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Uttar Pradesh: condition of primary schools concerning, including heavily diluted milk and mid-day meal rations “missing”

A ground report based on an investigation into the primary schools by The Mooknayak reveals that primary schools in Basti district are on the verge of collapse. Not enough books have been provided for the children. Large amounts of water are being added to the milk provided as part of the mid-day meal, and due to apathy on the part of the school management and the ration kotedar, the school’s cooking stoves have remained un-lit for months. [Kotedar: person who runs the government-appointed ration store for selling food items at reduced prices as part of the public distribution system.]

Basti— The situation that has come to light during an investigation involving some primary schools in the Odvara cluster, Saunghat block, located about 18km east of the district headquarters, is shocking. There are about five to six primary and upper primary schools in this area. The Mooknayak team visited these schools around the time of the mid-day meal for the children.

Kurthiya Primary School, Saunghat, Basti [Photo: Rajan Chaudhary, The Mooknayak]
Kurthiya Primary School, Saunghat, Basti [Photo: Rajan Chaudhary, The Mooknayak]

At Kurthiya Primary Schoolin Saunghat, the children were busy with their studies after having had their mid-day meal.  A group of school children of Class 5 ware studying together. The Mooknayak approached them and asked what did you all eat for your meal today? The children replied in unison.. “Dal aur roti” (as per the daily mid-day meal schedule) [“lentils and bread”]. The headmaster of the school told us that a total of 97 children attend this school. All the facilities in the school are running somewhat smoothly.

The Mooknayak then went to Sanviliyan Vidyalaya Odvara II, which is located not far from Kurthiya Primary School. On reaching the school, we saw that a set of new books for the children issued by the government had arrived. At the main gate of the school, the headmistress was instructing the children to carry the books into the school themselves. An assistant teacher at the school told us that, “The month of September has begun, and it is only now that our children are getting the new books issued by the government. The books have come so late, and there are only a few of them, there aren’t enough to be distributed among all the children.”

Sanviliyan Vidyalaya Odvara II, Saunghat, Basti [Photo: Rajan Chaudhary, The Mooknayak]
Sanviliyan Vidyalaya Odvara II, Saunghat, Basti [Photo: Rajan Chaudhary, The Mooknayak]

When The Mooknayak enquired about mid-day meal to find out more about the arrangements for it in the school, the headmistress Priyanka Mishra, who had been supervising the children getting out the books sent by the government for them, out of the vehicle, this exactly was her response: “You people go away, there is no need for the media here.”

On hearing the headmistress’s comment, anyone would have guessed that she did not wish to talk about the school at all. As if she was thinking in her mind that no-one should ask me any questions.

However, The Mooknayak team kept standing there and waited for her to reply. Again, she only said, “Since about August, due to shortage of rations here, the mid-day meal has not been prepared. About which information has been submitted in writing to the Block Education Officer and Basic Education Officer. The details of matter would be known to the authorities.”

Headmistress Priyanka Mishra did not provide any further information apart from that reported above. Whereas the assistant teacher at the school, who had been standing nearby, took us into the school premises to tell us more. He told that the books that had arrived for the children on that day should have been sent a long time ago. He said, “Not a single book for Class 4 has arrived, only two of the books for Class 5 have arrived and one book for Class 3 has arrived.” He told us that there were a total number of 129 children in that school.

Apart from the matter of the books for the children, the assistant teacher did not give clear information about the mid-day meal. We waited there until the school day was over. The Mooknayak team asked the students who were coming out of the school gate whether they had eaten their meal in school today and whether the mid-day meal had been prepared. The children replied, “No”.

Inside the Sanviliyan Vidyalaya Primary School, Odwara II, Saunghat, Basti [Photo: Rajan Chaudhary, The Mooknayak]
Inside the Sanviliyan Vidyalaya Primary School, Odwara II, Saunghat, Basti [Photo: Rajan Chaudhary, The Mooknayak]

The real situation regarding the school’s mid-day meal emerged when a school cook (a woman who cooks the mid-day meal in the school) told The Mooknayak the whole story. The cook spoke to us on the condition of not revealing her name and identity. She said, “When the milk arrives for the children to drink, we are made to add a lot of water to the milk. On the day that 100 children attend the school, we have to mix one and a half buckets of water in 4L [litres] of milk.”

When we asked a question about adding so much water to the milk that came for the children, she said, “The headmistress says that we have to make do with whatever milk is delivered, we aren’t going to be spending our own money on it.” She says, “We are helpless in that we have to make do with the amount of milk that is delivered to us. As for feeding the children, 100 children have to be fed with 4kg of potatoes and one pau [200-250gm] of soyabeans. We don’t understand how much water to add and how to distribute it among all the children.”

“There are no rations in the school, due to which the children are not given the meal regularly,” said the cook.

A student of the same school said, “Ma’am does not bring any rations with her, and she says to us that eat your meal at home, before you come here.”

Rations aren’t reaching the school because it means spending (just) Rs200

An ex-student of Sanvilian Vidyalaya Odvara II told The Mooknayak, “The rations are there with the kotedar. It costs about Rs.200 to transport the rations from the kotedar’s store, an expenditure that the headmistress is not wanting to bear. This is the reason why the children have stopped getting their mid-day meal in school.”

Moma for Daughters – Kailash Chaudhary Foundation takes up the matter

The Odvara-based social organization “Moma for Daughters – Kailash Chaudhary Foundation” provides free education to children in the area from deprived and marginalized backgrounds, including those lacking support. They also aim to ensure the fulfillment of children’s education-related needs. On 30 August, they shared a video story on Twitter of how children in Odvara’s primary schools were not being provided the mid-day meal at their school. In the video, many children say that they had been told by the school teachers to eat their meal at home, because the rations in the school had run out.

The social organization Moma for Daughters was founded by Garima Chaudhury on 27 July 2021 with the aim of promoting self-development among rural children from deprived and marginalized backgrounds including those lacking support through quality free education. At present, a total of 36 children are being provided free education by this organization. Here, all the facilities required for the education of these children have been provided free of cost.

Garima Choudhary explained, “I founded Moma for Daughters – Kailash Chaudhary Foundation for daughters in the memory of my mother Kailash Choudhary, who was a huge advocate of girls’ education and empowerment. We lost her on Mother’s Day 2021 during the second wave of Covid. The goal of our foundation, which is located in my native village in Basti, is to help underprivileged children. As part of the support from the organisation, we provide free education and other necessary facilities to school children.”

“We’ll look into the matter”

The Mooknayak spoke to Dr. Indrajit Prajapati, the District Basic Education Officer, Basti, about the above-mentioned problems at Sanviliyan Vidyalaya Odvara II. “Send us information about the matter, and we’ll look into it,” he said.

A major issue: who is responsible for transporting ration items?

The Mooknayak team spoke to Hari Om Yadav, headmaster of Pachari Kala Primary School, which is located in the Rudhauli block of Basti district, for understanding more about the responsibility of transporting the rations required for the mid-day meal from the kotedars to the schools. He explained that “The rations required for the food to be cooked for the children’s mid-day meal in any primary school come from to the ration kotedar’s shop that is local to that school. The responsibility of delivering the mid-day meal rations to the school actually lies with the kotedar, but in reality probably there is no kotedar in the entire district who delivers the rations to their primary school. Because of which the headteacher or the school in-charge has to arrange transporting the rations to the school themselves at their own expense.”

No increase in mid-day meal budget despite food prices doubling over last 2.5 years

On July 1, 2020, the government set a budget for the mid-day meal at Rs.4.97 per student at primary level and Rs.7.45 per student at upper primary level. In the last two and a half years, this budget for the mid-day meal has not been raised by even one paisa, despite a significant rise in prices and rate of inflation during this time. The cost of the food items required for the mid-day meal has gone up from two times to three times. Under the national programme, 60% of the cost of the mid-day meal is borne by the union government and 40% is contributed by state governments.

Watch full video report here:

यहाँ हिन्दी में भी पढ़ें: उत्तर प्रदेश: प्राथमिक स्कूलों की स्थिति चिंताजनक, मिड-डे मील में दूध कम पानी ज्यादा और राशन भी खत्म

[Story Translated By Lotika Singha]

Rajan Chaudhary
Rajan Chaudhary
Journalist, The Mooknayak | Email: rajan.chaudhary@themooknayak.in

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