On 1st June, online portal The Wire published a story claiming that the Tripura government didn’t provide any food grains to the students under the mid-day meal scheme. Quoting documents accessed by the portal under the Right to Information, The Wire claimed that not only Tripura govt failed to provide food grains to the students, they also paid less than prescribed amount towards cooking cost of mid-day meals, which were directly transferred to the accounts of parents of the students.
But the OSD to the chief minister of Tripura, Sanjay Mishra today tweeted saying that the report by The Wire is completely misleading and untrue. He asserted that money have been transferred to the parents of the students as per guidelines issued by the MHRD in light of the situation arising out of the Coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown.
It may be noted that as schools are closed due to the lockdown, state governments are transferring the relevant amount to the parents of students who are eligible for the mid-day meal scheme.
In its report, The Wire said that Tripura govt paid Rs 5 per day to the primary school students and Rs 7 was paid to the upper primary students. They attached two letters from the Directorate of Elementary Education of Tripura to the inspector of schools informing about the allocation of funds at this rate first for 30 days, from 17th March to 15th April, and subsequently for 45 days from 17 April to 31 May. Citing the revised cooking cost fixed by the union govt that came to effect on 1st April, the report claimed that “only the cooking cost per child per school day has been transferred to the students’ accounts”.
The Wire said that “this works out to Rs 4.97 and Rs 7.45 per day at primary and upper primary levels respectively, which includes the procurement of pulses, vegetables, oil, spices and fuel”. And they claimed that the Rs 5 and Rs 7 paid by the Tripura govt is less than the cost of cooking, and it didn’t provide any food grain to the students. While 7 is less than 7.45, the Rs 5 paid for primary level is actually more than the Rs 4.97 prescribed as per rules, which the Wire failed to mention.
The Tripura government has issued a statement dismissing the report by The Wire, and it shows that the Tripura govt actually paid more amount to the students as compared to the amount due as per MHRD guidelines. The Wire compared the entire amount with the revised norms, but the period of lockdown was spanned in two financial years, 2019-20 and 2020-21, and therefore the prescribed amounts are also different. Before 31st March, the prescribed amount was Rs 4.53 for primary level and Rs 6.71 for upper primary, which means both the amounts Rs 5 and Rs 7 were actually more than the prescribed amounts, not less as the Wire is claiming.
The amount is less only for the upper primary level for the current financial year, while for the primary level it was more than the prescribed amount in both the years.
Moreover, the claim made in the subtitle of the report, which said “An RTI query shows that the mid-day meal allowance for Tripura primary school students is less than Rs 5 a day”, is also completely misleading, as the national level allowance itself is Rs 5.27 for current fiscal and Rs 4.83 for the previous year.
Coming to the cost of food grains, it is a small amount, which the Wire does not mention to imply that a huge amount was held back. As per norms, the cooking cost already includes the cost of pulses, vegetables, oil, salt, spices and fuel. It is mentioned by The Wire itself in the report. Only the main food grain, rice or wheat, is not included in the cost. The statement issued by the Tripura Govt shows that Rs 0.30 is allocated as cost of rice for the primary level, and Rs 0.45 for upper primary. Therefore, in net per student rate paid to the students by the govt in both the financial years, primary students got more in the first phase but less in the second phase, and upper primary students got less in both the phases.
Even in that case, the total amount that the students received was more than the prescribed amount. This is because the Tripura govt paid for the entire duration of 75 days, while if the schools were open, the govt would need to pay for only those days when schools were open. According to the Tripura govt statement, there were total 20 holidays in the period from 17 March to 31 May, which means the students received an extra amount for these 20 days, which more than offsets the shortfall in the cost of food grains.
The calculation by the state govt shows that if the amount was paid only for working days, it would be Rs 5,93,15,181 in the first phase and Rs 8,68,66,134 in the second phase. But the Tripura govt paid Rs 7,47,99,030 and Rs 11,21,98,545 respectively. Both these actual amounts are also mentioned in the documents accessed by The Wire using RTI. This means Tripura govt paid Rs 4.08 crore extra to the students.
Now if we analyse the amount actually received by students compared with the prescribed amount, we can see that both primary and upper primary students received more amount, as they were paid for the holidays also.
This calculation shows that primary students were paid 58% more, while the upper primary students got 40% more amount. Hence, an average of 50% more was paid to the students.
Therefore, it can be seen that The Wire claiming Tripura paid less to the students under the mid-day meal is completely false, as the actual amount paid was much more than what was due as per norms.