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Mid-day meal: Nexus of govt officials, middlemen siphoned off Rs 5k cr

Mid-day meal: Nexus of govt officials, middlemen siphoned off Rs 5k cr
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The Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) that aimed to stem drop-out rate in schools across India, according to Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG’s) yet to be published report, has been rendered ineffective thanks to the embezzlement of funds amounting to nearly Rs 5,000 crore.

The national auditor, while expressing  dismay over the findings, noted that in the last five years allocated budget under the MDMS scheme from 2010 to 2015 was Rs 50,679.43 cr. But unfortunately “middlemen” minted money and made the scheme poorer by Rs 5,000 cr. This embezzlement of funds took place by diverting food-grains and presenting inflated bills.

An audit was conducted across India covering nearly 25 per cent of the 12 lakh primary schools in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha among others. The national auditor observed that the objective to reduce the dropout rate failed with children leaving schools midway going up to nearly 40 per cent.

“Students want quality education and not boiled rice. The entire scheme turned out to be a failure due to poor implementation of plans and the violation of the MDMS norms,” CAG sources said.

It was also felt that government’s failure to put in place a proper monitoring mechanism helped the middlemen and touts divert good quality food grains midway to hoarders,  replacing it with ‘inferior quality of grains. As per government statistics from 2011-15, nearly 10409154 MT (wheat and rice) were sanctioned under the scheme but more than 10 lakh MT of food grains were diverted and did not reach its respective destinations besides 9 lakh MT food grains rotted and thus were wasted. The auditors also found that food for the children was being cooked under unhygienic conditions, the children were also asked to cook and dirty containers were used to cook and serve.

“The dubious activities under the scheme are taking place mainly due to non existence of a reliable evaluation system. A nexus between government officials and middlemen cannot not be ruled out. It was also noted that inflated bills against food grains procurement were presented and they were cleared with the connivance of various account sections at various government establishments in the states,” CAG sources informed.

The auditors also found that in many instances teachers, staff and cooks were found to be taking cooked food home for their family members. In some instances in Tripura and Kerala, schools were found to be engaged in selling cooked food to private parties. In some schools in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha teachers were seen taking more interest in receiving food-grains and procurement of vegetables rather than teaching.

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