West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday denied any discrimination in the state government’s directive on construction of dining halls for midday meals in state-run schools, which have over 70% Muslim students in Cooch Behar district, PTI reported.
Banerjee said the circular was worded in that manner to figure out whether minority students were in greater numbers so that “we could channelise minority welfare department funds into this scheme”. She said the order was meant to benefit all students regardless of the community they belonged to. Banerjee said this was in accordance with the Government of India guidelines, and called it a “technical matter”.
“This was supposed to be for schools which do not have dining halls and where students have to eat outside under the sun,” Banerjee said. “The idea is to pool in funds from different departments so that the scheme can be effectively implemented. It was not supposed to divide students in any way.”
The chief minister’s clarification came a day after Bharatiya Janata Party state president Dilip Ghosh questioned whether there was any “malafide motive” behind the “segregation”.
“Why this discrimination between the students on the basis of religion,” Ghosh asked on Twitter. “Is there some other malafide motive behind this segregation? Another conspiracy?”
“The TMC government is only interested in working for the development of the minorities, in order to secure its vote bank,” Ghosh told PTI on Friday. “What wrong have the Hindu students done that they can’t avail the facility of dining halls?” he questioned.
“Why create a religious divide in schools?” Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Babul Supriyo told ANI. “Everyone agrees that Mamata Banerjee is solely responsible for the rise of TMC and she will also be the one destroys it.”
Leader of Opposition and Congress leader Abdul Mannan criticised the state government over the order and said it cannot just segregate students on the basis of religion.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sujan Chakraborty also condemned the move. “Students cannot be discriminated on the basis of religion. If a dining hall is being created it should be for all,” Chakraborty said.
The Trinamool Congress had initially issued a statement quoting Banerjee as saying that it was an old circular which has already been withdrawn.
West Bengal Minister of State for Minority Affairs Giasuddin Mollah dismissed the BJP’s allegations as baseless and said the ongoing project will benefit all students.
“Our department is working to upgrade infrastructure of minority-dominated general institutions for the overall development of all students,” Mollah said. “The dining halls for mid-day meals will benefit all students, and not just Muslims. The funds have been sanctioned so we sought a list of such schools.”