The West Bengal government will supply rice and potatoes for the month of April to students from Classes III to VIII of its schools, who are eligible for mid-day meals but are staying home due to the lockdown, in the wake of coronavirus (COVID-19). Guardians of these students will be asked to come to the respective schools to collect 3 kg of rice and 3 kg of potatoes, and inspectors have been asked to ensure that the distribution — which will lead to a gathering of people — is not highlighted on social media.

The State government wants the heads of schools to remotely supervise the distribution with the help of local teachers and mid-day meal support staff and ensure social distancing and use of masks and gloves by the handlers. The distribution will begin in phases starting April 20, according to a State government order. The procurement is to be completed by April 18 and the packaging by April 19.

‘Mammoth task’

“The rice and potatoes are to be locally procured and that’s quite a task because most schools in rural areas have 500-1,000 students having mid-day meals. This means each school would require 1,500-3,000 kg of rice and potatoes — quite a mammoth task for heads, most of whom live 50-100km away from their schools and will have to supervise the distribution over phone,” said the headmistress of a government school who did not want to be named.

“Since I stay about 60km away from my school, I have already intimated the managing committee president and my support staff who are local and I hope to carry out the government order to the best of my ability. I would ideally like the procurement and distribution to be managed in some other way, maybe at the block level, but I guess we have little choice. If it is an order, it is meant to be followed,” she said.

‘No social media’

“The strangest part is that we have been asked not to share news related to the distribution on social media — perhaps the authorities realise that the exercise is a violation of the lockdown. Even if guardians of students belonging to one class are asked to come to the school on a specified date, it would mean a gathering of some 200 people, which will put all involved at risk. And when a similar distribution happened just before the lockdown, some guardians had brought the students along in some schools, as a result of which the school heads were transferred overnight,” the headmistress said.

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