Mid-Day Meal Scheme lagging as schools lack cooking infrastructure

Mid-Day Meal Scheme lagging as schools lack cooking infrastructure
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Kitchens operate from private homes and classrooms

Sheikh Uzair

Srinagar: Various schools that are covered under the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Education, commonly known as the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme, lack proper infrastructure for cooking the meals, which is creating serious hurdles in the scheme’s proper implementation.
The programme was launched in J&K in September 2004 to promote universalisation of primary education by increasing enrolment, retention and attendance of children while simultaneously improving their nutritional status by providing them afternoon meals at their schools.
Although all the schools are supposed to have proper kitchen facilities so as to prepare the meals in a hygienic environment, schools in many areas of Srinagar city lack those facilities, causing them to use their classrooms for cooking.
In one such school on the outskirts of the city, a kitchen and a class operate side by side from the same room with lockers and trunks demarcating them, hence hampering the smooth functioning of classes.
“Please take a look here. On that side, it is the class room, and here I cook the food,” said Dilshada, cook and helper at a school this reporter visited. “I have to be very careful while doing the work but how can I manage the kitchen without making any noise.”
Just three kilometres away from the city centre is a school with only two rooms where food cannot even be cooked. The cook and helper prepare the food at the cook’s home and deliver it to the school because of the lack of cooking space on the school premises.
Many other schools that do not have separate kitchen facilities to prepare the MMS food are similarly managing from the classrooms of their school buildings. But it adds to the problems of school administrations that are already falling short of classroom space.
“We already have fewer classrooms for the students and, after giving a room for the kitchen, it becomes hectic to adjust all the classes in this little space,” said Gulzar Ahmad, a teacher at a middle school in downtown.
When this reporter talked to the concerned school in-charges and various Zonal Education Officers, they said they are “helpless” and have “genuine reasons” for not working more on these issues.
“Look we cannot do much about it. Most of the cases you have brought to our notice are schools operating from rented buildings. We cannot do any major construction in these buildings,” an Educational Officer at one of the zones said. “But if there are department-owned school buildings that have some problems, we will do the needful. The funds are available in the department and we will utilise them accordingly”.
In a meeting to consider MDM scheme proposals submitted by representatives from J&K state under the annual Work Plan and Budget 2017-18, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) raised “serious concern” over non-completion of construction work on kitchen-cum-stores sanctioned during past years under the centrally sponsored MDM scheme.
According to the report, out of 11,815 sanctioned kitchen-cum-stores, J&K had completed 7,118 and the balance of 4,697 could not be completed within the existing rates prescribed by the MHRD.
“The state has an unspent balance of Rs. 38.15 crore under the component of Kitchen cum store and shall be constructed in the current financial year through convergence as the unspent balance available with the state is insufficient,” the report reads.