Proxy attendance for mid-day meal funds: Headmasters’ salary to be deducted to recover…

With some school headmasters (HMs) dragging their feet over paying penalties for allegedly inflating attendance of students, the Bihar government has finally decided to recover fines by deducting the amount from their salary.

The HMs allegedly spiked attendance of students to claim more funds under the mid-day meal(MDM) programme.

Though the government received reports of irregularities long ago and imposed financial penalty on HMs, the fines could not be fully recovered. Many of the HMs moved court for relief citing their unwanted involvement in non-academic work, while others were just indifferent.

The government has ordered the recovery of a Rs8.68-crore penalty from HMs. Of which, Rs 4.21-crore (48%) has been recovered. More than 1,000 HMs have allegedly fudged the data since 2013, when the idea of penalty was first mooted by the state education department.

RK Mahajan, principal secretary of the department of education, recently directed all district programme officers (DPOs) to deduct the penalty amount from headmasters’ salary in five instalments over as many months.

“The DPOs must ensure a monthly deduction from all those who have not deposited the penalty amount within a month of the receipt of the letter, except those who have got stay from the court,” stated a letter by Mahajan.

“During inspections, the attendance of that particular day in the school and the average of the previous week is matched. If the deviation is within 10%, there is no issue. However, if the deviation is above 10%, a penalty equivalent to the amount given in the last three months is imposed on the headmaster,” said Vinod Kumar Singh, director of the mid-day meal programme, .

Another official said that in several cases, the accused HMs with the help of their association approached the Patna high court or the Lokayukta, claiming that they were overburdened with non-academic work like management of MDM. The court has also asked the government to find an alternative to free teachers from MDM responsibilities.

Though the Bihar government tried to hand over MDM to NGOs or self-help groups (SHGs) and also ran pilot projects, a viable alternative has not been found because of the scale of the programme. In Bihar, despite a drop in enrolment numbers, 1.20 crore students from Class 1 to Class 8 are estimated to avail MDM daily.

In a Niti Ayog meeting a few months ago, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar advocated the direct benefit transfer for the centre’s flagship MDM programme to plug leakages. “Cooking in schools has a direct bearing on education. Instead of centres of learning, schools are viewed as centres of food. Poor quality and unhygienic conditions often lead to unpleasant incidents,” he had said.

However, to achieve this, the Centre would have to change the policy at the national level, which seems unlikely. Bihar, on its part, has been seriously mulling the option of handing over MDM to women SHGs, which are 8 lakh in the state, the highest in the country. A pilot project has been launched in one block each of Jehanabad and Muzaffarpur to assess the feasibility.

First Published: Dec 29, 2018 14:28 IST

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