New Delhi: Months before the panchayat elections, the West Bengal government under Mamata Banerjee has announced that chicken, eggs, and seasonal fruits will be served till April in midday meals, along with the usual rice, dal, and vegetables.
“Additional nutrition will include egg, chicken, and seasonal fruits which may please be added with normal PM Poshan [to address malnutrition] on weekly basis for four months from January to April,” the order said.
Additional nutrition will include Egg/Chicken/Seasonal fruits which may be added with normal PM-POSHAN on weekly basis for 4 months from January 23 to April 23. Extra cost for additional nutrition per week per student will be Rs 20: School Education Dept, Govt of West Bengal pic.twitter.com/4FIc9oLUbx
— ANI (@ANI) January 6, 2023
The midday meal or PM POSHAN scheme is funded on a 60:40 basis by the state and Union government. The Bengal government’s notification however says that the additional Rs 372 crore incurred as a result of this scheme will be paid by the state.
West Bengal education minister Bratya Basu told Indian Express that “lack of funds” had made it imperative for his ministry to restrict the scheme’s duration to four months.
The change in the midday meal menu comes ahead of the panchayat polls, which are likely to be held before April.
Leaders of all three parties in the opposition in Bengal alleged that this was a last-ditch effort by the ruling Trinamool Congress party to get votes before the election.
CPI(M)’s Sujan Chakraborty said that considering that this was a longstanding demand of the the people, the timing was suspect.
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said while it was clear that the panchayat polls were at the heart of the decision, his party would not protest against it.
BJP’s Rahul Sinha said that the TMC was trying to “buy people’s votes in exchange of chicken and fruits,” according to Express.
Non-vegetarian food in midday meals had become a debated subject in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states.
In 2018, The Wire had reported that only five of the 19 states then ruled by the BJP, or their allies, served eggs to children in their midday meal programme.
In Kerala, after allegations were made of “Brahminical dominance” as vegetarian food was served in a state government-sponsored youth festival, the education ministry announced that it would serve non-vegetarian food from next year onwards, Indian Express has reported.
The Kerala School Arts Festival saw no fewer than 10,000 participants this year, after a two-year COVID hiatus. Held in Kozhikode, famous for its non-vegetarian dishes, the fact that the caterer is a Brahmin and has served only vegetarian food in the past few years at this festival became a talking point online.
On Thursday, education minister Sivankutty said: “This is a festival of diversity and the Education Department will initiate steps to promote that. Over the years, only vegetarian dishes have been served at the festival. This is going to change and from next year, there will be non-vegetarian food at the table.”