Opinion

4.4 Lakh ‘ghost students’ in schools, did the Congress government encourage the massive mid-day meals scam?

A massive midday meal scam has surfaced after Aadhar number verification was done which showed there were 4.4 Lakh ghost students from schools across Jharkhand, Manipur and Andhra Pradesh, for whom the government had been earmarking funds under the mid-day meal scheme.

The midday meal program was started by the government to ensure all students get proper food on working days from class 1 to 8. But there were many complaints received by the HRD ministry about massive misuse of funds in the midday meal schemes. In order to avoid the corruption practice, the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry made the unique identification number mandatory for students to obtain mid-day meals.

But this was opposed by Congress and also activists who claimed that the move would result in many beneficiaries being excluded from the child nutrition scheme.

The HRD ministry which took cognizance of the situation conducted a thorough investigation which showed that since many years government schools in the three states of Jharkhand, Manipur and Andhra Pradesh, have been showing non-existent students on their rolls to claim additional funds from the mid-day meal scheme allocation. Andhra Pradesh – which linked all its 29 lakh government school students to Aadhaar – had 2.1 lakh claimants who existed only on paper. The enrolment of the school was cancelled after the government discovered that the officials had misused massive amount of money. In Jharkhand schools, names of 2.2 lakh non-existent students have been deleted from school records. So far, 89% of the 48 lakh students enrolled in the state’s government schools have availed of Aadhaar numbers. The number of ghost students discovered in Manipur schools stood at 1,500.

The previous government inspite of receiving many complaints, did not take any action and remained mute to the corruption which has amplified the corruption many folds in the recnt years.

The official in the HRD ministry said that presently these 3 states have been caught and they are in the process of identifying other states who have shown ghost students to get midday meal funds for the schools. “We are still in the process of collating data from states, but available figures show fake enrolment of students in government schools. The number of fake students may go up further once all the states share data,” an HRD official said.

Midday meals funds are given by tax payers money and most of the burden falls on the central government.  Most states in India share the financial burden for the mid-day meal scheme with the Centre at a 40:60 ratio. The ratio for northeastern states is 90:10, with the Centre paying the bulk of the funds.

The reports also showed that the schools not just showed non-existent students but also claimed excess teachers. A pilot study conducted by Kerala’s department of general education in 2014, after Aadhaar numbers were integrated with the student database, found its schools to have an excess of 3,892 teachers. The state sanctions one teacher for every 45 students.

So, in reality the teachers were not present but only the records claimed there were more teachers in schools. As a result since 3 years there has been no teachers appointed in the school which has made the children suffer.

The HRD ministry said that currently only 30% of the 11 crore students enrolled in class one to eight at government schools across India possess Aadhaar cards. And therefore we need to ensure all students are brought under the scheme by this June end.

The reports also showed that most of the money meant for midday meals was being diverted to other people in fake names. Much of the funds were said to be used or building construction and improvisation of school building, but however there were no visible construction or improvements seen in any of the schools.

According to a government statement issued on March 7, Aadhaar linkage has helped save as much as Rs 49,000 crore by plugging leakages in LPG, scholarship, MNREGA and pension schemes over the last two-and-a-half years.

The HRD ministry also assured that all students will be given midday meals and people should not assume that students without AADHAR will be left to stay hungry. He said by the end of June all kids will be given AADHAR number and enrolled in the scheme so they receive all government benefits.


Aishwarya S

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