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Assam Loses Central Funds to Serve Midday Meal

* No new funds for construction of kitchen-cum-stores till Dispur returns unused Central funds

STAFF REPORTER

GUWAHATI, Sept 11: The Centre has stopped sanctioning new funds to the Assam Government for construction of kitchen-cum-stores for the midday meal scheme, citing the pending funds sanctioned earlier.

The development has come at a time when the Centre has asked the North Eastern States to provide milk and honey with midday meal currently being served among school students.

During a recent official meeting held in New Delhi under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Assam Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan mission director and the state nodal officer of the midday meal scheme, Aruna Rajoria, informed the Centre that over 5,000 kitchen-cum-stores could not be constructed as their costs had “escalated over the years”. Funds for construction of such kitchen-cum-stores were sanctioned way back in 2008.

In 2017, a project approval board meeting on midday meal scheme held in New Delhi had also raised the issue with the Assam Government. During the meeting, the State was asked to surrender the money sanctioned for the construction of 5,122 kitchen-cum-stores so that the Centre could sanction fresh funds. Even though the State Education department promised to surrender the money, it did not do so eventually. When the Centre raised the issue recently again, the State Education department saved its skin by promising to surrender the money. Under such circumstances, the Centre has told Dispur that no fresh fund will be sanctioned till the State returns the earlier funds not utilized so far.

On other hands, Dispur could utilize only 59 percent of the funds allocated to the management, monitoring, and evaluation (MME) head of the midday meal scheme. Rajoria informed the Centre that the State Government had decided to provide aprons and headgears to cook-cum-helpers from the MME component. Though it had floated an e-tender, the process could not be completed during the financial year 2017-18 resulting in under-utilization of the MME funds.

Assam has, however, done well in terms of covering children under the midday meal scheme. The average coverage of children against the enrolment during 2017-18 was 97 percent and 91 percent in primary and upper primary respectively. This is well above the national average of 76 percent.