Mid-Day Meal: Horrific Stories of Demonetization in Telangana Schools

Children eating plain rice cooked with turmeric at Thummalapalli on 16th Nov 2016

Amid the blame games between Government and the opposition about adverse effects of Demonetization, child right activists in Telangana recollects the horrific stories they experienced few days after 8-November move, which left children with worst meals they would ever have just because the money in their pockets has become worthless.

Varsha Bhargavi, an activist at MV Foundation shared her experiences on the blog- Child Rights India, where she passionately writes about Child Rights. Extracts of the original story is republished here:

On the 8th day after de-monetisation, students of Thummalapalli Village Upper Primary School, were served rice cooked with turmeric and salt with a handful of peanuts so that the dish 'appears' colorful. The meal served to school children did not have any curry or the regular watery dal with a few vegetables floating in it or egg which is served thrice a week.

Thummalapalli is a small village located 70 kms from Hyderabad in Marpalle Mandal of the newly formed Vikarabad district of Telangana state. The village has one Upper Primary School with 91 students.

Paasula Arvind studying in 4th class, aged 9 yrs reads out the menu written outside the classroom wall, but is a bit confused when he had to describe the mid day meal. “It is all watery. The Pappu Chaaru (dal) is very watery now. Yesterday they served us Taalimpu Annam (Rice with mustard and jeera seasoning). They did not give us egg today. Since I thing 20 days we did not get egg.  But we got one egg after Diwali. Earlier we used to get 2 eggs per week. Now the mid day meal is just rice. No they stopped giving vegetable curries. We eat what they give.  I like it if they give us egg, fruits, vegetable curry and on Tuesdays Pulihora (Tamarind Rice) and Chaaru. They stopped all these since the school reopened after the festival. We have 17 students in our class.”

Rice cooked with Turmeric and salt

Sangameshwar, the school SMC chairman said (Nov-2016) “Telangana state government supplies rice to the school, but the other essentials like dal, oil, salt, masalas are purchased from local shop on credit and vegetables are bought from the village market using cash. As per the revised cooking cost in year 2015-16, the allocated budget is Rs. 4.13 and Rs. 6.18 per child per day for primary and upper primary students respectively. Eggs are procured for Rs. 3.50 per egg and are served thrice a week. But since a week, due to the recent cash crunch, cooks Sangamma and Chandramma were unable to buy any vegetables with the little cash they had or procure vegetables on credit from the village marketSo they are serving cooked rice to children without any vegetables. They don’t have any cash to buy vegetables for the mid day meal served to children at school. We don’t know when the situation will be normal again.”

It is not just with this school, but almost every school in Telugu states seems to have suffered for at least a month. In some villages, the local villagers volunteered to lend some dal for the meal program. School staff or the cooks who managed to convince local grocery stores for credit have managed to serve some dal or rasam (Tamarind water with spices) along with rice or have limited to serving plain rice with pickles, water or turmeric and salt.  

Can you imagine serving your own child a meal worth Rs. 4 but you still can’t afford the 4 rupees despite having your hard earned money? It is a common phenomenon across south India that the Mid-Day meals are served with very poor quality rice. Children has gone on strike several times protesting worms in the rice.

However, in the recent months, Telangana State Government seems to be supplying Fine variety of Rice for mid-day-meal scheme additionally bearing an amount of Rs.97.72 crores per annum approximately. Rice is the only stock the schools have. Rest of the provisions have to be procured from outside and bills submitted at the end of the month. But the bills are not so easily sanctioned! Cooks have to sometimes spend from their pockets or borrow groceries from local vendors on credit. Bills are delayed for months.

Cook Chandramma at Thummalapalli village school says  “We normally don’t get our bills for serving Mid day meals  for 3-4 months at a stretch.  Once the old payments are cleared, we use the monies to clear old loans which we have with traders and keep some cash on us for buying vegetables on daily basis. But cash is the only way I can pay for getting vegetables from the village market. And now my 500 and 1000 rupee notes are not accepted by the vegetable vendors, the reason we cannot serve vegetables to children.”

Total budget of Rs. 32505.89 lakhs is shared at 60:40 by central and state governments for students till class 8. In addition to this Telangana state government extended the meal to 9th and 10th class students at its own expense serving a total of  20,13,000 children with Mid Day Meals at government schools in the state.

However the unpaid bills running into lakhs of rupees is a definite burden on the cooks in rural Telangana who are mostly single widowed mothers looking for livelihood. The laid back attitude of the state government in clearing the pending bills is already stressing out the cooks and adding to it the cash crunch due to demonetization drove several people involved in the Mid Day meal program over the edge.

With the rising costs of vegetables and eggs many of them are feeling helpless in serving a basic meal to the children. School Management Committees and Civil Society Organisations like Child Rights Protection Forum sent several petitions to state government to clear the pending bills and increase the budget for the program but in vain.

Courtesy: Varsha Bhargavi's blog, Child Rights India