Ahead of the panchayat elections due this year, the West Bengal government has allotted Rs 371 crore for introducing chicken and seasonal fruits in mid-day meals from January to April.
In addition to the existing midday meal menu of rice, potato, soybean and eggs, chicken and seasonal fruits will be served weekly once, for four months, for additional nutrition under PM POSHAN, according to a notification.
The provision of additional items, however, is unlikely to continue after April, a school department official said.
Students are at present given rice, pulses, vegetables, soybean and eggs in schools as part of mid-day meals. An amount of Rs 20 will be spent per week on providing additional nutrition to every student, and the process will continue for 16 weeks, according to the January 3 notification, a copy of which is available with the PTI.
Over 1.16 crore students in state-run and aided schools are beneficiaries of the mid-day meal scheme, for which the state and Centre share the cost on a 60:40 ratio.
The additional allocation of Rs 371 crore, however, was made entirely by the state. Asked whether the state will allocate another amount after the four-month period, the school department official said that no such decision has been taken so far.
He said the additional items will be served with immediate effect in every block on different days of the week.
The move triggered a political row, with the BJP questioning why such a decision was taken ahead of the panchayat elections due this year and Lok Sabha polls in 2024, while the Trinamool Congress accused the Opposition of "smelling politics in everything".
"The decision to serve chicken to school children ahead of elections raises questions about the change of heart of the TMC government. Why were poor children deprived of these items and only given rice and lentils till recently? The decision smacks of a political motive to secure votes as panchayat polls are around the corner," BJP leader Rahul Sinha said.
TMC's Rajya Sabha MP Santanu Sen said party supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee always stands by the side of the common people, and this decision "reaffirms that fact".
"Trinamool Congress is a people-centric party, unlike the BJP which wants to do politics on every issue. During the COVID pandemic and lockdown, our state ensured that children were not deprived of mid-day meals and distributed rice, pulses, potato, soybean regularly from school buildings. Despite difficulties, we did not shut down mid-day meals," he added.