Kerala’s midday meal coverage claim ‘highly improbable’, says Centre; team to examine ground reality – The Indian Express

The Centre has decided to form a joint team of officials from the Ministry of Education and the Kerala government to examine the “improbable” claims made by the state education department that around 99 per cent of children enrolled in the state’s primary and upper primary classes availed midday meals on a daily basis in 2022-23.
The matter was flagged on May 15 during the meeting of the Programme Approval Board (PAB) of PM Poshan, earlier known as midday meal scheme, in the presence of senior officials of the Ministry of Education and the Kerala government, including Union School Education Secretary Sanjay Kumar and Kerala General Education Department Principal Secretary Rani George.
According to the minutes of the meeting, the central officials doubted the claim of the state that nearly 100 per cent children enrolled in primary (class 1-5) and upper primary (6-8) schools in 14 districts of the state were covered under the scheme in 2022-23. As an immediate measure, the state government has been directed to “check the authenticity” of the figures and submit an action taken report by July.
The officials then decided to form a joint team of central and state officials to carry out a ground-level check. The state government has also been directed to ensure a fool proof mechanism to ensure that the data entry process on coverage under the scheme is reliable.
“PAB observed that in the districts as mentioned in the above tables, almost 100% of the enrolled children in primary school have been shown as availed school meals on all working days. This seems highly improbable. PAB decided that a team comprising representatives from central and state government may visit a few districts to ascertain the ground level picture to verify the authenticity of the reported coverage by cross verifying data from various levels, that is schools, blocks, and districts,” according to the minutes.
The minutes show that the Kerala government claimed that of the 16,91,216 children enrolled in the state’s primary schools (government and government-aided), 16,69,135 (99 per cent) availed midday meals on all working days, while the corresponding numbers are 11,45,178 and 10,85,129 (95 per cent) in the case of upper primary grades.
An official said the claim of near 100 per cent coverage was also made by the West Bengal government, following which a joint review team was constituted that found that the numbers were allegedly inflated, and funds possibly diverted. The state government has, however, contested the charges.
Under the scheme, most components, including cooking costs are split in a 60:40 ratio between the Union government and the states and UTs with legislatures, and 90:10 with the north-eastern states, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The cost of food grains is borne entirely by the Centre. Officially, the scheme covers 12.21 crore students in classes 1-8 across states and UTs.


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