The steep rise in the price of the vegetables such as tomatoes, green chillies and tur dal has had a cascading effect on mid-day meals served to students of various government schools in Telangana.
With the price hike of all vegetables, the mid-day meal workers are forced to make changes, as the average budget for each student remains unchanged.
In most of schools, the mid-day meal workers are now serving rasam instead of vegetable curry. The price of key ingredients such as tomatoes have skyrocketed to Rs 80-90 per kg from Rs 25-30 last month, while a kilo of green chillies now costs Rs 60-70 against the price of Rs 40 at the end of May.
Poor rains have led to crop losses leading to the skyrocketing of nearly all vegetable prices.
Although revenue officials are distributing rice to run the scheme, workers are given a budget of Rs 6.18 per meal for students between the ages of 10 to 15 years while students below the age of 10 are allocated a budget of Rs 4.10 per meal. In addition to this, each student is allocated Rs 4 for one egg a week.
Mid-day meal workers argue that the budget allocation is unviable given the present market prices, and very often they are forced to spend from their own pockets to buy provisions.
A visit by this TNM reporter found that students across various schools are being compelled to adjust with rasam without any of the nutritious vegetables.
Impact on nutrition intake
In Kamareddy district alone, over 1000 schools implement the mid-day meal scheme, with officials estimating that more than 90,000 children benefit from the programme.
Mettu Gnagamani Srinivas, who has been a mid-day meal worker at Sada Shiva Nagara Model High School for four years says, â€śDespite high prices, we are running it from our pockets only because we don't have any other employment and hope that they will one day regularise our jobs from contract to government."
While the mid-day meal scheme caters to 430 students at Sada Shiva Nagara Model High School, Mettu says, â€śWe get reimbursed for food expenses late. It takes 15-20 days to receive the reimbursement and as a result we are compelled to take on debts despite the honorarium of Rs 1000.â€ť
Each child is supposed to get 150 grams rice. But what the officials fail to notice is that the quantity remains the same irrespective of the age of the child, reducing the overall amount of nutrition.
However, District Education Officer of Kamareddy, Madanmohan told TNM, "The budget amount that is offered to the agencies is decided by central government, which is changed once in three years taking into account the national average price of vegetables.â€ť
He also argues, "Owing to these technicalities, the central government cannot consider the fluctuations in local markets. Many times, there is a steep fall in the price of vegetables and ingredients. Can the government then cut the budget allocation?"
Madanmohan also says that the Telangana government is considering allocating additional money for the consumption of eggs.
But with mid-day meal workers unhappy over their meagre budgets and with children not receiving their required daily nutrition, CITU state leader Siddiramulu hit out at the Centreâ€™s â€śillogicalâ€ť method of deciding the mid-day meal budget based on the national average price of vegetables. He also says, â€śThe government should increase the slab rate and amount for eggs from Rs 4 to 12â€ť and adds,
â€śThe honorarium of workers must be increased, and their reimbursements should be released on time."