Mid-day meal scam puts Patnaik in dock

The opposition parties have declared to intensify their agitation seeking Patnaik’s removal from the chief minister’s post.

State minister for women and child development Pramila Mallick has already resigned over the issue. However, it has not satisfied the opposition. The department headed by Pramila was dealing with the mid-day meal scheme for government run schools in the state.

Trouble began for the government a few days back when its own vigilance department brought to the fore the scam in the popular scheme after conducting repeated raids in different districts.

The department had already received several complaints of irregularities in the supply of ‘dal’ (pulses) for the scheme. There were also a number of reports from different districts about children refusing to have their mid-day meals in schools because of sub-standard dal which were not suitable for human consumption — insects were found in cooked dal in some cases.

Crores involved

What the vigilance sleuths discovered after their investigation was startling — private suppliers had pocketed crores of rupees by supplying cheap and sub-standard dal though they had been contracted to provide higher quality dal at a much higher price.

Interestingly, all these irregularities had been going on despite the presence of a number of government appointed monitoring committees at different levels. What was more interesting was that one of the members of the state level monitoring committee was Pramila’s own brother.

She had defended that her brother’s presence in the committee was not because of his relationship with her but because of his work as a social activist who was heading an ‘international’ NGO.

The ex-minister’s clarifications however had no takers not even in her own party. Party MP Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, known for his close association with the chief minister, said
“The minister’s brother was certainly there in the committee as the head of an NGO. But it would have been better had he not been included in the committee”.

Pramila’s brother, Khirod Chandra Mallick, founder president of ‘Biswa’, resigned the day his name was made public by opposition leaders.

After resigning, Pramila, who also heads the women wing of the BJD, said she would concentrate more on party work — besides developmental activities in her constituency.

However, trouble seems to be far from over for her as the opposition parties have demanded that she must face criminal charges.

They have also demanded that criminal cases be framed against the officials involved in the scam. The government has decided to chargesheet two former collectors in connection with the scam, besides transferring another collector. More action is on the cards against many senior officials in different districts besides private suppliers.

The opposition parties have cornered chief minister Patnaik on the ground that he did not initiate any steps to check the irregularities though he was well aware of them. The opposition members had raised the matter several times on the floor of the Assembly.

Some of the members had even brought the spurious dal to the House and displayed it.

“The chief minister, Pramila Mallick, as well as officials involved, should be booked under criminal laws for playing with the health of millions of poor school children”, said BJP leader, Bijoy Mohapatra, a long time bete noire of Patnaik.

This is not the first time the BJD government has been hit by a major scam since Patnaik became chief minister for a record third consecutive term after the regional outfit’s spectacular win in the 2009 Assembly elections. The mining and coal scams have already been unearthed during the last one and half years.

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