Pending bills, rising prices take a toll on mid-day meal scheme

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Nav Prayas, an NGO that prepares mid-day meal for more than 20,000 children in various schools in the district, is currently procuring groceries on credit due to delay in release of bills by the government. The organisation has given a letter to the district authorities notifying that they would not be serving eggs as arrears to the vendors have been mounting.

“We have over ₹30 lakh bills for eggs alone pending with the government,” said Nav Prayas district coordinator Shakti Singh. He claimed that their bills had been pending since December, amounting to over ₹1 crore.

Moreover, the current surge in vegetable prices due to short supply has also hit the programme. Nav Prayas, for instance, uses about 15 quintal of potatoes, 300 kg spinach, 300 kg split red gram and 45 kg onions per day, depending on the menu.

“We used to procure onions at ₹12 a kg, now we are spending ₹26 per kg,” said Mr. Singh. Red gram price rose from ₹54 to ₹90 a kg. The prices of potatoes and spinach also almost doubled while tomatoes from ₹8 per kg shot up to ₹40,” he lamented.

This along with the government’s delay in clearing the bills had dried up the funds of the organisation and it was now forced to buy everything on credit. Due to this, Mr. Singh claimed, the vendors were further increasing the prices putting additional burden on the organisation.

“If we had funds, we could import from other States where costs are less. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh, we get red gram at ₹64 per kg. Even after including transportation cost, imports will still work out to less than the prevailing market price of red gram in the district,” Mr. Singh said.

Scheme workers hit

On the other hand, the mid-day meal workers managing the scheme in the rest of the district have also been hit by the increase in prices. Protests have broken out in the past month demanding that the government release bills at the earliest.

CITU district secretary G. Desai said that some mid-day meal workers in the district had dues ranging from three to six months. “The workers are taking loans to procure groceries,” he claimed.

Talking about the way the government has decided to manage the problem, he said that the government was giving contracts to NGOs. “This will reduce the mid-day meal workers to just servers at schools,” he added.

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