As fund shortage hit serving of food in many schools across the state, the Union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has decided to resume the withheld central grant to the Punjab government under the mid-day meal programme.
The ministry, which withheld the grant earlier due to “non-release of the state’s own share and fund diversion, has sanctioned Rs 40 crore to the state government for serving mid-day meals to 15.50 lakh children of elementary classes in state-run schools. The central grant was released last week after the state authorities informed the ministry about an “unspent balance” of Rs 16 crore from the previous year and gave an assurance regarding release of its share in time.
Besides revalidating the unspent amount, the ministry has asked the state government to contribute its minimum mandatory state share of Rs 22.81 crore. The mid-day meal scheme – the largest programme of its kind in the world – is jointly funded by the Centre and the states on 60:40 sharing basis. HT had on November 16 reported the ministry’s decision to withhold its share of mid-day meal grant to the state.
The HRD ministry gives its share of funds in three instalments. The first tranche of Rs 40 crore was given in May and another 35% after adjusting the unspent balance was due in July. While Punjab has got its second instalment of the centre’s share now, most other states have already got their final tranche also.
“After the ministry gave its share, we also released Rs 48 crore to districts on Tuesday,” said Punjab’s general manager, MDM, Prabhcharan Singh.
The delay in central grant was a setback for the fund-starved state government which has been trying to scrounge up cash for paying salaries and to roll out its poll promises, particularly the debt-waiver scheme for small and marginal farmers. The programme was hit in several districts of the state with many government schools discontinuing the free lunch. In other areas, school teachers have been serving meals by paying from their pockets or taking credit.
The HRD ministry, while approving the state’s plan for serving nutritious meals to 9.10 lakh children of primary classes and 6.40 lakh chidren of upper primary classes in 20,149 schools in March 2017, had also taken up with the school education department issues such as absenteeism, delay in release of funds to schools, less coverage and lack of proper monitoring.