Unsung victims of food inflation

High prices lead to mid-day meals sans vegetables in urban schools

Vegetables are no longer part of the mid-day meal served at schools in urban areas. The regular fare of sambar that goes along with the rice, no longer has tomatos, potatos or, of course that inordinately expensive onions, no thanks to the spiraling prices. Thus, the mid-meal in government schools, which was purged on eggs by the current government, has now lost any calorific value, thanks to no fault of the children.

Luckier, however, are the students of some schools in rural areas as their meals are prepared with the green vegetables grown on the school premises by interested teachers.

As many as 2.7 lakh children studying in 2,500 schools in the district benefit from the mid-day meal scheme. The government gives 70 paisa per student, of which 35 paisa is towards vegetables and cereals.

The government has, however, not specified what type of vegetables should be part of the daily meals. It is left to the school authorities to buy the cheapest vegetable from the market. Nearly 50 per cent of the schools are supplied mid-day meals by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) as part of its 'Akshaya Patra' scheme which has been criticised by the Opposition as profit-making.

In the last one month, the prices of vegetables have sky-rocketed following large-scale crop damage due to rain caused by the ‘Jal’ cyclone in the State. This has delayed arrival of vegetables in the market. With the demand going up, the vegetables are being sold at premium prices. Beans, carrot and radish have gone beyond the reach of the common people.

Nagendra Kumar, Deputy Director of the Department of Public Instruction, admitted that the spiralling prices of vegetables had hit the mid-day meal scheme not only in the district, but all over the State. This came to his notice during his routine visit to several government schools in the district. Kumar said the schools had not purchased onion in the last two months as the prices had touched an all time high of Rs 70 to Rs 80 per kg.

Also, there is not much difference in the prices of vegetables sold in HOPCOMS and the open market, Kumar said. "The schools will be able to buy vegetables for the mid-day meals, only if the prices come down", he said.

Teachers had complained to him about their inability to prepare the food with vegetables, as the funds given by the government to purchase vegetables were not at all sufficient. The worst hit are the schools where there are hardly 50 students, as the money allocated by the government is not sufficient even to buy other ingredients, let alone vegetables. The situation was a little better when the student strength was around 300 in these schools, as more funds were available then, he said.

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