BANGALORE, July 24;Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education Kimmane Ratnakar on Tuesday assured the Legislative Council that about 40,000 government primary and high schools that don’t have independent sources for drinking water, would get either an open well or borewell before June next year.
The Minister was responding to a lengthy discussion on a serious issue — the shortcomings in the midday meal scheme after the recent Bihar tragedy — under Rule 68. All members of the House showed equal concern about the scheme that feeds about 61 lakh schoolchildren. Mr. Ratnakar said there are about 55,000 government primary and high schools in the State; of them about 15,000 have independent sources of water. He has directed officials to list out the schools which do not have a water source.
Mr. Ratnakar said only 12 cases, including one death, had been reported in the last 12 years since the scheme commenced, during which time over six crore children had benefitted from it.
Responding to suggestions to rope in more non-governmental organisations and corporates to strengthen the scheme, Mr. Ratnakar said he would approach the corporates personally, with a request to adopt a few schools.
“We want to develop at least two schools in every gram panchayat on a par with private schools; they would be offered to corporates for adoption. They need not provide any funds to the government, instead they would be free to develop those schools,” he said. The government is open to participation of NGOs to complement the midday meal scheme as ISKCON, Adamya Chetana and a few others do. They together feed about 10 lakh children of the total 61 lakh covered by the scheme.
The subject was up for discussion in the Legislative Council where Janata Dal (Secular) Floor Leader M.C. Nanaiah demanded that a high-powered committee, led by the Chief Minister be constituted to improve the quality of food and upgrade infrastructure under the midday meal scheme.
Participating in a debate on the problems haunting the scheme, Mr. Nanaiah said the proposed committee should meet once a month to regularly monitor the implementation of the scheme.
The committee should be supported by the district-level committees headed by Ministers. He also suggested that such panels should look into the problems related to infrastructure, quality of food, supporting staff and hygiene.
“No scheme is more important than the midday meal scheme as it aims to take care of the nutritional and food requirements of the country’s future generation. The State is spending only about Rs. 500 crore a year on the scheme. It is possible to upgrade the scheme by improving the quality of food by spending another Rs. 250 crore,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition D.V. Sadananda Gowda expressed concern that the cooks and their assistants get paltry salaries. He also indicated the unhygienic conditions under which the midday meal is cooked in various schools.