Fortified rice, bananas for children in govt schools of Punjab’s 2 ‘aspirational districts’ picked by NITI Aayog

But banana distribution yet to start
Funds awaited from Centre
Cooking cost not received from Centre for the past two months

CHILDREN ATTENDING government schools in two districts of Punjab — Moga and Ferozepur — are now getting ‘fortified rice’ under the Mid Day Meal programme, to meet their nutritional requirements and treat conditions such as malnourishment, anaemia etc.

Moga and Ferozepur are on the list of 124 ‘aspirational districts’ shortlisted by the NITI Aayog for “quick and effective transformation of the most under-developed districts” with the implementation of developmental projects in different sectors — under the Government of India’s ‘Champions of Change’ programme.

However, while the Centre had also approved a state proposal for distribution of bananas to children in midday meals in these two districts, which was scheduled to begin in August, it is yet to start as funds are awaited from the Centre, said officials from the state education department. Moreover, the state has not received its share of cooking cost from the Centre for the past two months, making it difficult for teachers to manage the midday meal budget at school level.

Fortified rice is produced after regular rice grains are broken, ground and turned into powder, mixed with nutrients and then shaped into rice-like kernels. They are then mixed with normal rice and consumed.

I P S Malhotra, assistant project director, midday meal scheme, Punjab, told The Indian Express: “We have received fortified rice allocation for second quarter of FY-2021 (July 2021-September 2021) and third quarter (October 2021-December 2021). These districts were earlier getting ordinary raw rice which has been substituted by fortified rice having several micro nutrients such as iron, folic acid, vitamin B, A and zinc.”

While the state has already distributed fortified rice to children for the second quarter, distribution for third quarter is ongoing. “We give 100 gram rice to each child per day. A total of 517 Metric Tonnes (MT) of fortified rice were given to children from July to September 2021 including 273 MT in Moga and 244 MT in Ferozepur. For the third quarter, we have been allocated 481 MT for these two districts,” said Malhotra.

On the request of Punjab government and a proposal submitted thereafter earlier this year, the Centre also approved serving of bananas for 74 days a year in these two districts, on expenditure of Rs 5.26 crore. But with the funds still awaited from the Centre, banana distribution has not started.
“…They (Centre) are yet to transfer us Rs 5.26 crore because they want Punjab to open school-level bank accounts with one nodal bank where funds can be transferred. This was their pre-condition to transfer the funds. We are in process of doing that and have already given an undertaking to the Centre requesting funds to be transferred,” said Malhotra.

Punjab had also proposed inclusion of Mansa district for providing extra nutrition to children in government schools, but the Centre approved two districts only, said Malhotra.

Adding that allocation of fortified rice depends on its availability in local Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns, he said that additionally, Patiala district is also being covered in Punjab.
“Schools in Patiala are also getting fortified rice because of availability with FCI. We are hoping that by the end of this year, fortified rice will be given to all districts in Punjab for midday meal,” he said.

The cooking cost of Rs 7.45 per child (upper-primary) and Rs 4.97 (primary) for mid-day meal is borne by Centre and state governments in 60:40 ratio and Punjab is yet to receive this share too (since August) last year.

“We are hoping that alongwith pending cooking cost funds, Centre will also transfer banana fund,” said Malhotra, adding that currently, the state is getting funds for 16.05 lakh children from classes I to VIII but with increase in enrolment in government schools during Covid, the number of students entitled to midday meal has increased to 17.30 lakh for which additional budget has been sought.

Punjab’s total midday meal budget including grocery and cooking cost is around Rs 350 crore per year.
With schools now open, children are being given cooked midday meals in Punjab, while earlier, during Covid, ration packets were home-delivered by teachers.

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