On the 8th day after de-monetisation, students of Thummalapalli Village Upper Primary School, were served rice cooked with turmeric and salt with a handful of peanuts. The meal served to school children did not have any curry or the regular watery dal with a few vegetables floating in it or egg which is served thrice a week.
Thummalapalli is a small village with 300 households and their main source of income is agriculture. This village is located 70 km from Hyderabad in Marpalle Mandal of the newly formed Vikarabad district of Telangana state. The village has one Upper Primary School (U-DISE Code: 36060100901) with 91 students and offers classes from class 1 to 7.
Jangam Sandhya, studying in 4th class says she likes the Mid Day meal when they serve an egg. “Other days, it is just Rice and Dal. I don’t like it that much. How can I eat Rice and dal every day? Before the festival, they used to serve us tomato curry on some days. Not anymore.”
Sandhya’s cousin Sindhuja adds, “I carry a tiffin box from home with curry made by my mother. I eat my curry with the rice they serve at the school. Now they stopped giving us fruits. I don’t remember when they stopped. It was a long time back. Sometimes we get an egg. Today (24th Nov 2016) we got Rice and Dal.”
Paasula Arvind studying in 4th class, aged 9 yrs reads out the menu written outside the classroom wall, but is a bit confused when he had to describe the midday meal. “It is all watery. The Pappu Chaaru (dal) is very watery now. Yesterday they served us Taalimpu Annam (Rice with mustard and cumin seeds seasoning). They did not give us an egg today. Since I think 20 days we did not get any eggs. But we got one egg after Diwali. Earlier we used to get 2 eggs per week. Now the midday meal is just rice. No, they stopped giving vegetable curries. We eat what they give. I like it if they give us eggs, fruits, vegetable curry and on Tuesdays Pulihora (Tamarind Rice) and Chaaru. They stopped all these since the school reopened after the festival. We have 17 students in our class.”
Pasuvula Naveen is in 5th class and his family migrated back to the village as they lost their jobs in Hyderabad after bifurcation of AP and Telangana states. He says “Mastu rojulayyindi guddu petti…. It’s been several days since we got an egg. No, they didn’t give. No, fruits either. We get just dal with rice but very watery. I like bananas. They stopped giving bananas. After Deepavali, we got egg only once.”
According to the School Management Committee Chairman, Mr. Jangam Sangameshwar, the effects of de-monetisation were very brutal in this small village of 300 families dependent on agriculture and is directly affecting the children whose Mid Day meal was reduced to plain rice without any vegetables or eggs. 91 students are enrolled in the Upper Primary School (UPS).
Sangameshwar, the school SMC chairman says, “Telangana state government supplies rice to the school, but the other essentials like dal, oil, salt, masalas are purchased from the local shop on credit and vegetables are bought from the village market using cash. As per the revised cooking cost in the year 2015-16, the allocated budget is Rs. 4.13 and Rs. 6.18 per child per day for primary and upper primary students respectively. Eggs are procured for Rs. 3.50 per egg and are served thrice a week. But since a week, due to the recent cash crunch, the midday meal cooks Sangamma and Chandramma were unable to buy any vegetables with the little cash they had or procure vegetables on credit from the village market. So they are serving just the cooked rice to children without any vegetables. They don’t have any cash to buy vegetables for the midday meal at school. We don’t know when the situation will be normal again.”
Cook Chandramma has more woes to add.
“We normally don’t get our bills paid or costs reimbursed in time, for serving Midday meals, sometimes with delays extending to 3-4 months at a stretch. Once the old payments are cleared, we use the monies to clear old loans which we have with traders and keep some cash on us for buying vegetables on daily basis. This is a normal routine of rotating cash for daily purchases. But as we get credit from the local shop for buying dal, oil and masalas, we settle payments after our bills are cleared. But cash is the only way I can pay for getting vegetables from the village market. And now my 500 and 1000 rupee notes are not accepted by the vegetable vendors, which is the reason we cannot serve vegetables to children. We normally buy dal, oil and masalas twice a month and stock up and buy vegetables on daily basis. But now we have only a few things left in the kitchen except rice and some dal. We know without vegetables, we cannot serve a nutritious meal to children. We cannot go on spending our limited cash, as we are not sure how soon the old bills will be cleared. Chief Minister KCR announced that all government employees will get half the salary1 in December as he says there is no money with the government. But for buying vegetables we have to use cash. We cannot but serve just rice to the children. I went to the bank which is located 6 kms away, to get my 500 rupee notes exchanged on the first day, but there was a long queue of people from the neighbouring villages and after waiting till 2pm, the bank ran out of cash. I had to return empty-handed. I cannot go every day leaving work to stand in the queue, so I am borrowing essentials from the local shop for my family.”
Pasula Prem Kumar, father of two and a cotton farmer, has a different story to tell.
“My younger son Akhilesh (4 yrs) goes to the Aanganwadi centre and elder son Aravind (8 yrs) studying in 4th class at the Upper Primary School in the village. I am aware that the midday meal funds are released once in 3 months and cooks get the supplies on credit from the shop. But since a week the regular watery dal and tomato curry disappeared. There were no eggs served as the van which supplies to Aanganwadi and school did not come this week. Today’s (16th Nov 2016) meal was only rice with turmeric and salt. I am worried that my sons are not getting nutritious food at school, and I cannot provide it myself. I harvested cotton after borrowing Rs. 74,000 at 3% interest per month from the moneylender, including Rs. 20,000, which I borrowed on 1st November, towards harvesting and transportation expenses for selling my produce. I finished harvesting on 9th November, and did not pay wages to the labourers who picked cotton as all the cash I have is in Rs. 500 note denominations. After our Prime Minister Modi announced that Rs. 500 notes were useless, I deposited the cash in my account at Grameena Bank in Patloor village. The wholesale buyer Sudarshan Reddy said he cannot pay me cash as his buyer is paying him by cheque. Even if I accept cheque from Sudarshan Reddy, I cannot pay the labourers’ wages by cheque. There was a man at the market yard who offered me 4 notes of Rs. 100 denominations in exchange of each Rs. 500 note. I saw many other small farmers are exchanging old notes with him. I managed to draw Rs. 4,000 from the bank, but they gave me 2 currency notes in Rs. 2000 denomination. I don’t know how and where to spend it as no one has the change now”
The school Head Master Dayanagari Srikanth Kumar says that the payments for Mid Day meal are pending for 2 months. “This is a routine. Last payment that was cleared was for August bill for Rs.6,000. Now we have submitted bills for September and October (Rs.6,600 & Rs. 5,900) to Mandal Education Officer (MEO) and the bills are verified by the Mallesham, Cluster Resource Person who is in-charge for 8 schools in Marpalle Mandal. We don’t know when these payments will come. We have stocked up Sanna Biyyam (fine quality rice) given by the state government. But the cook has to purchase vegetables and eggs twice a week, which is not happening due to uncleared bills and now it is getting worse due to the cash problem. We did not get school uniforms yet. We finished half the academic year already.”
Cluster Resource Person (CRP) Parigi Mallesham explains the procedure for getting the payments. “The Head Master of the school normally prepares the expense statement every month and submits to Mandal Education Officer (MEO). MEO clears it. If any discrepancy the CRPs are instructed to verify the details by visiting the schools in person. This month the situation is severe as the State Treasury Officer said all the accounts are frozen after demonetisation. So, the payments are pending not just for Thummalapalli UPS but 7 other schools in Marpalle Mandal. Yes, the salary of cook cum helper is Rs. 1,000 per month. It is difficult for them to manage with such a low salary and wait for uncleared payments for months. But I cannot do much as the account is frozen until further notice. I don’t know. Things may move after a week or two.”
Upper Primary School, Bilkal Village, Marpalle Mandal, Vikarabad District, Telangana
Another Upper Primary School in the neighbouring village Bilkal, served plain cooked rice with Pacchi Pulusu on 16th Nov 2016. Pacchi Pulusu is a Telangana dish made of tamarind water with a few chopped onions floating around. P. Ramulu, Head Master of Bilkal confirmed that as per the Mid Day Meal menu, children are supposed to get 3 eggs per week, but are served only two. “It is a routine that G. Anansuya, our cook borrows Rs.1000 or 500 from the teaching staff to purchase vegetables and eggs and get pulses on credit from the village kirana shop. Each egg costs us Rs. 4 sometimes even Rs. 5. We have 61 students in our school, that will be about Rs. 750 just for purchasing eggs each week. Had this been a bigger school, we could have bargained on the prices. So, we are serving eggs twice a week. As the old payments are pending for 3 months, the cooks already borrowed money on interest. They are waiting for the bills to be cleared. Now even we are unable to spare cash for eggs and vegetables as the old currency notes are not legal tender. I have a Rs. 2000 note, but no one in this village is ready to give me change. We are already facing problems. Instead of giving one egg each, our cook is now making scrambled eggs and started serving in small quantities to children just to follow the midday meal menu. I know it is not enough. But we are helpless. We informed our Mandal Education Officer about the situation, but he too seems clueless and did not offer any solution. I hope this is resolved soon.”
Zilla Parishad High School, Polumala Village, Maddirala Mandal, Suryapet District, Telangana (110 students)
- Anusha, a student of class 10, was very vocal about the diminishing quality of the Midday meal served in her school. “We found worms in the rice which is served and all of us complained to our Head Master Papaiah Sir. He asked us to throw away the food. This happened twice this week. The Pachhi Pulusu is just tamarind water. Now they are not even adding onions to it. How can we eat rice with Pachhi Pulusu or Chaaru every day? There is no taste. They are giving us an egg only once a week. We will consider ourselves lucky if they give us eggs twice a week. Since the past 10 days, the quality is even worse. I don’t know why.”
Sravani, another class 10 student did not find any difference in the quality of midday meal at the school. “They didn’t serve egg this week. We are okay with the Pachhi Pulusu and Rice. Today they gave us Bhendi curry. We don’t want to complain as the meal is given for free. Sometimes they serve Dal, Tomato curry and Potato curry. But not always.”
Akula Ailaiah, School Management Committee (SMC) Chairman and President of Mandal SMC committee confirms that the quality of midday meal is deteriorating every day. “I offered Rs. 10,000 to the cook to buy some vegetables and eggs, but it is hardly enough for a couple of days. I am a small farmer with 2 acres of land. Even if I want to help, I cannot go on lending money like this every day. As per record, they say they are serving 2 eggs per week, but we know this is not true. We cannot blame the cooks as they did not get paid for the past 4 months. The traders are now refusing to extend credit to the cooks unless they clear old bills, which is another problem. I will be meeting the Head Master tomorrow and will share more details.”
Zilla Parishad High School, Venkipalli Village, Nutankal Mandal, Suryapet District, Telangana (99 students)
According to Dhanamma, Children’s Rights volunteer working for MV Foundation who interacts with students on a daily basis conducting Gender Equality classes, things are the same. “Yes, all the cooks have the problem of unpaid bills. But here in this school, the Head Master Sivaiah Sir lent Rs.7,000 to the cook Palamur Rajitha to ensure that there is no compromise in the quality of the meal served to the children. He assured the cooks to ask for more money if needed. This is due to the inspection by District Education Officer. Today (18th Oct 2016) they served Bhendi curry and Dal as per menu. The bills have been pending for the past 3 months for this school. I spoke to the children and they are unaware of the situation.”
Nutankal Zilla Parishad High School, Nutankal Mandal, Suryapet District, Telangana (632 students)
This school has students coming from over 20 villages across the mandal including students from Government Girl’s Hostel, SC and BC Boys Hostels totalling to 632 children from class 1 to Class 10. Head Master Damera Srinivas confirms that the daily expenses can be anything between Rs.4,500 to Rs. 5,000 for procuring vegetables and provisions for the Mid Day meal. “We have not received payments for the past 4 months and the debt is running up to Rs. 6 lakhs. The last contractor who employed cooks for midday meal left us in the lurch due to the unpaid bills. We found another person who took the contract. But who will work without getting paid? Especially when they know they will be buried in debt amounting to lakhs of rupees. This is nothing new. In April and May during summer vacation another contractor served midday meals to over 100 students and is still waiting for his payment. Sending letters to MEO is futile as they too don’t have a clue when the payments will be released. We are ensuring that children get eggs at least twice a week. But I am not sure how long we will be able to continue like this. Bearing expenses of Rs. 5,000 per day is not possible for anyone. Merchants in the villages are refusing to give provisions on credit until we clear the old bills. This is the only school that offers English Medium so parents prefer sending their children to this school. It is painful for me to see that we cannot afford to offer a nutritious lunch for our children. Added to this the currency crunch hit us hard. We are not sure how long we can continue with this.”
Zilla Parishad High School, Aeypore Village, Atmakur Mandal, Suryapet District, Telangana (290 students)
Lalitha, another Child Rights volunteer working for MV Foundation shares another story about Mid Day meal served at ZPHS Aeypore Village. “The school needs 300 eggs which cost Rs.1,500 each time. For a week the cooks have to shell out Rs. 4,500 just for eggs. After 8th November their old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes are not accepted by shops. They managed to exchange the old currency with new Rs. 2,000 notes. The traders are asking to buy provisions for the whole amount as they don’t have change for the new Rs.2,000 currency note. The Head Master is very adamant that the menu should be followed strictly as the DEO and District Collector will be coming for an inspection. He is aware of the problem but insisted on following the menu. The cooks are facing a problem from both sides. Children complained about the quality of food several times. To limit consumption of Dal the cooks are adding more chilli powder. This is affecting the children very much. We don’t even know who is to blame. We don’t know how we can survive like this for the next 50 days. Cooks are waiting for the last 4 months payments which are still pending. Ironically this village is adopted by our Education Minister Guntakandla Jagadish Reddy and yet the children are facing problems.”
Telangana State Government is supplying Super Fine variety of Rice for MDM scheme additionally bearing an amount of Rs.97.72 crores per annum approximately. Rice is the only stock the schools have. Rest of the provisions are procured from outside and bills submitted at the end of the month. 29,019 primary and upper primary level schools are covered in the scheme. The total budget of Rs. 32,505.89 lakhs is shared at 60:40 by central and state governments for students till class 8. In addition to this Telangana state government extended midday meals to 9th and 10th class students at its own expense serving a total of 20,13,000 children at government schools in the state.
However the unpaid bills running into lakhs of rupees is a definite burden on the cooks in rural Telangana who are mostly single widowed women, looking for a livelihood. The laid-back attitude of the state government in clearing the pending bills is already stressing out the cooks and adding to it the recent cash crunch due to demonetization drove several people involved in the midday meal program over the edge. With the rising costs of vegetables and eggs, many of them are feeling helpless in serving a basic meal to the children. School Management Committees and Civil Society Organisations like Child Rights Protection Forum sent several petitions to the state government to clear the pending bills and increase the budget for the program but in vain. Many schools are unsure how they could continue serving meals under the current circumstances till the end of November, leave alone 50 days of so-called inconvenience.
- Telangana requires Rs 2,500 crore per month to pay salaries and pensions and Rs 1,100 crore to pay interest on loans. Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao on Saturday pressed the panic button regarding the adverse financial condition of the state government on account of demonetisation. http://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/131116/telangana-government-staff-may-get-half-pay-in-december.html
Reference material about midday meal in Telangana: http://mdm.nic.in/Files/Workshop/Regional-Workshops/2015-16/Hyderabad/Presentations/Telangana/Telengala.pdf