A Centre-state joint review of the implementation of the PM Poshan scheme has flagged concerns that midday meals worth more than Rs 100 crore were allegedly over-reported by the West Bengal government between April last year and September, reported The Indian Express.

On January 13, the Centre had announced forming a Joint Review Mission that was to visit West Bengal to review the implementation of centrally-sponsored scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman, or PM Poshan scheme, under which students are served one cooked meal in government and government-aided schools.

The Joint Review Mission was led by Anuradha Dutta, the head of the department of food and nutrition at the GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Uttarakhand. It also comprised officers from the Central and West Bengal governments.

On March 24, the Centre shared the report with the state government seeking its response as it flagged discrepancies and major areas of concern. The report claimed that “over-reporting of serving of over 16 crore meals is a serious issue since the material cost of 16 crore meals translates to over Rs 100 crore,” reported the newspaper.

The review team also claimed that only 60% to 85% of the enrolled children were taking midday meals on an average basis in 2022 as against the state’s claim of 95%. During the team’s visit to the schools, the average rate of children eating hot cooked meals was 52%, according to The Indian Express.

The report asked the state government why the funds for the scheme were allegedly diverted to pay compensation to fire victims. It also alleged that food grains were being misallocated, rice, dal and vegetables were being cooked 70% less than prescribed quantities and expired condiments were being used in food preparation.

Responding to the allegations, the West Bengal government on March 30 said that it has directed the local project directors of the scheme to examine the findings made by the review mission, according to the newspaper.

However, state Education Minister Bratya Basu said on April 3 that the Joint Review Mission had submitted its report without even informing the project director or getting his signature.

“The PD, CMDM [project director, Cooked Mid Day Meal] has written to the chairperson of the JRM [Joint Review Mission] regarding this omission,” he added. “However, this is another example of a blatant violation of Centre-State relations that the Central government does regularly.”

The development comes at a time when the Trinamool Congress government in the state is already locked in a tussle with the Centre over release of funds for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or MGNREGS.

The scheme guarantees 100 days of unskilled work annually for every rural household that wants it, covering all districts in the country.

Since December 2021, the Centre has not been allotting funds under the scheme to West Bengal, citing violations in the implementation of the scheme by the state government.

The last wage instalment to workers in the state had been disbursed on December 26, 2021. Since then more than Rs 7,500 crore worth of MGNREGS funds to West Bengal has been withheld. Of this, the workers’ pending wages amount to Rs 2,744 crore.