No LPG, firewood fuels 20% of school meals in TN
Of the 3,700 centres in the region, nearly 770 have not been using LPG cylinders for many years.
PERAMBALUR: Workers at hundreds of noon-meal centres in government schools across central districts, including Perambalur, Thanjavur, Ariyalur and Tiruchy, have been forced to prepare food for children using firewood as they don’t get LPG cylinders due to shortage of funds.
Of the 3,700 centres in the region, nearly 770 have not been using LPG cylinders for many years. According to noon-meal workers, on average, 60 paise is allocated per student, per day towards cooking fuel expenditure. The average government allocation per cylinder is Rs 700 while the actual price stands at Rs 946.
In Perambalur, for instance, 398 noon-meal centres in government and government-aided middle and high schools prepare meals. In 2007-08, a scheme was launched in the district to provide gas stoves and LPG refills to 341 centres. However, only gas stoves were offered to several schools in Siruganpur, Varagupadi, Othiyam, Krishnapuram and Maruvathur unions.
In Maruvathur Higher Secondary School, a 50-year-old worker prepares the food every day for 60 students using firewood. P Rayappan, an activist from Maruvathur, said, “A cylinder was brought to the school when the scheme was launched. None was supplied after that. Every morning, the woman is forced to come early, fetch firewood, and prepare food. It also takes a long time to cook. Students are affected by the smoke. There is also no water facility near the cooking area.”
Cylinder money being used for grocery, firewood
According to Pon Anandaraj, president, Perambalur Nutrition Meals Employees’ Association, “Several noon-meal centres do not get LPG cylinders though they are eligible for it. Noon-meal workers are forced to carry firewood on their head from nearby forests. When gas stoves went kaput at 60 centres in Perambalur district, authorities asked us to fix the damage at our own expense and get a reimbursement later. We have not received reimbursement even after several months.
Senior officials threaten us if we question them.” Tamil Nadu Nutrition Meals Employees’ Association State president P Sundrammaal said, “Not just Perambalur, several districts in the State face such issues. Although the government introduced the gas stove and cylinder scheme, it has always been sanctioning less money than what is needed to get LPG cylinders regularly. Workers at the centres had to spend from their pocket to make good the difference.
Most of the workers prefer using firewood rather than spending for it. The money sanctioned for cylinders is, therefore, being used to procure groceries and firewood for the centres. Besides, the government has not sanctioned funds to schools in Chennai for preparing noonmeals ever since they reopened in September 2021. Our complaints to authorities have fallen on deaf ears.” According to G Latha, personal assistant to Perambalur Collector (noon-meal programme),
“The price of LPG cylinder was low when the scheme was launched. But, now we do not have funds to continue providing cylinders as the price has gone up.” Amma Ponnu, a noon-meal organiser working at Model Government Girls HSS, Othakadai, Madurai, said, “I prepare meals for around 250 students. For this, I need at least three gas cylinders a month.
But, it’s not available and I get funds only once every three months.” Shambhu Kallolikar, Secretary, Social Welfare Department, told TNIE, “We are aware of this price difference in purchasing cylinders and we have informed the government about this during the last review meeting held on February 17. The government is taking steps to provide the actual cylinder cost. Steps will also be taken to supply LPG cylinders to centres that do not have the facility.”