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Oct 13, 2012 at 08:48am IST

West Bengal: Subsidy cap on LPG cylinders hits mid-day meals in schools

Kolkata: Kids in state-run primary schools availing of mid-day meals in Kolkata and the rest of Bengal seem to be among the worst hit by the subsidy cap in LPG cylinders. The scheme is on the verge of collapse on account of the hike in cooking gas prices. For five years, Uttam Mitra has cooked mid-day meals for school students in a North Kolkata community kitchen which caters to the needs of 2500 children in nine schools. It uses 360 LPG cylinders, but with the new restriction on subsidised cylinders - Mitra has had to compromise. Mitra said, "I am very dissatisfied with my cooking. If we get the right supply of cylinders only then can I cook like before."

In Ramakrishna Sangha Vidyamandir School, the day's menu is rice and a vegetarian curry. Worried authorities said that the compromise on food quality and quantity will begin to impact school attendance at the 53-year-old school.

Sinthi Ramakrishna Sangha Vidyamandir teacher Pranati Manna Sil said, "Midday meal is the primary attraction why guardians send their wards to school. Any compromise there will result in dropouts and will affect our school badly."

Currently, the Centre allocates Rs 3.17 per primary student and Rs 4.33 per upper primary student per day for mid-day meals. With about one crore and sixteen lakh students availing of mid-day meals in West Bengal each day, the state government said that the hike in LPG prices will cost an extra Rs 72 crore an year.

Kolkata Primary School Council Chairman Kartick Manna said, "The state government is in financial crisis. If the central government does not do anything to provide extra support, the entire scheme of midday meal will collapse."

The Mamata Banerjee government is desperate to hold on to the success story of the midday meal scheme in West Bengal, but it isn't sure how long it can shoulder the additional financial burden on account of the hike in cooking gas prices, leaving the scheme in total uncertainty.

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