PUDUCHERRY: As children returned to schools in Puducherry on Friday, they found unfamiliar classmates in the form of rice sacks. During the pandemic, at least 2-3 classrooms in 200 schools across the UT -- mostly government schools and few private ones -- were used to store rice.
These bags of rice and other food grains were provided by the Centre under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY). The scheme, part of Atmanirbhar Bharat, aimed to supply free food grains to migrants and the poor during the pandemic.
According to Sakthivelu, Director Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, as fair price shops were closed (since the PDS schemes were implemented in Direct Benefit Transfer mode), and schools were also shut due to the pandemic, classrooms have been used to store rice since 2020. Just a couple of months remain for the scheme, it is to be implemented till March 2022, he said.
The school staff had also been assisting in the distribution of rice residents. Based on the government's decision, the storage of grains had been allowed and the institution heads were directed to support the distribution, said Director of Education PT Rudra Goud .
As schools reopened, following the government order 10 days ago, students found some of their classrooms unavailable, leading to resentment. Students have been made to attend school under unhealthy conditions that pose a health hazard, said CPM State Secretary R Rajangam. "Poor students come to school to build a career and they must be given a proper environment to study," he added.
According to Rajangam, though it was an emergency measure to store food, an alternate storage space must have been found when schools were reopened. “But failure to remove items from the classrooms when schools are fully-operational 6 days a week shows irresponsibility of the government and top officials, '' asserted Rajangam. When the government can pay Rs 7.5 lakhs to each MLA for high-end computers, it refuses to pay rent for storage, he said.
Out of the seven classrooms at the Government Middle School in Vambakeerapalayam, four were occupied by food grain bags, and only three are available for the students, he said. The majority of the students in government schools hail from poor families and hence there is lack of concern, charged Rajangam.
Meanwhile, the number of students in almost all public schools increased during the pandemic and hence, more space is required in classrooms.