News Desk :
The Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) proposed to provide eggs, milk and bread instated of khichuri (cooked meal of rice and lentils) as the midday meal to 3.5 million students under a school feeding programme. The DPE planned to launch a pilot project to provide this variety of food items at 19,000 government primary schools in 150 upazilas of the country.
Previously, the DPE took up a project to provide khichuri to students, but they backtracked in the wake of criticism, reports Prothom Alo.
The cost of the proposed Government School Feeding Programme (phase-I) project was estimated at Tk 47.59 billion, of which, the government will finance Tk 46.95 billion from the state exchequer and the World Food Programme (WFP) will provide Tk 650 million in grants. The project deadline of phase I was proposed for three years, which will be extended later.
The DPE sent a proposal on the matter to the planning commission, and the commission has called for an inter-ministerial meeting for Thursday. The planning commission hinted that the project is likely to get approval quickly since midday meat for students is on the priority list of the government.
According to the project proposal, students will be provided with a midday meal five days a week. Eggs and bread will be provided for two days; milk and bread, biscuits and seasonal fruit will be provided separately for three days. If this project is successful, it will be introduced across the country.
Experts said only providing of diverse foods will not work unless nutritious foods are ensured instead of khichuri.
Back in 2021, the DPF proposed to provide kichuri for five days and biscuits for a day to 14.8 million students under the Primary School Meal, sparking widespread criticism. When the project was placed at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) on 1 June that year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina cancelled the project.
At the meeting, the prime minister instructed to take any practical and alternative system for primary students.
Late, the DPE surveyed the alternative foods for school midday meals and students emphasised milk, bread and eggs.
According to project documents, Tk 41.81 billion or 88 per cent of the total budget has been proposed for food procurement; Tk 2.83 billion for appointment of contractors, warehouse, transport, service charge, food distribution and packaging. A total of 21,000 people will work under this project and Tk 400 million has been proposed for honorarium. Besides, Tk 300 million has been proposed for the procurement of aprons and handkerchiefs.
The Planning Commission, however, raised questions on what basis Tk 41.81 billion was estimated for food procurement and primary schools of 150 upazilas were selected.
DPE director (planning and development) Mizanur Rahman told Prothom Alo everything will be procured under Public Procurement Rules while DPE and project workers will distribute food. Besides, poverty-prone upazilas get priority in phase I of the project, he added,
Regarding this, Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) and former advisor to a caretaker government, told Prothom Alo egg, bread and milk can be distributed in schools instead of khichuri on a pilot basis, but widespread corruption remains a matter of concern. The entire process must be kept corruption-free and management must be smooth. Besides, nutritious food must be ensured, she added.