Facing flak over the circular on construction of dining hall in state-run schools having more than 70 per cent Muslim students, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday said it was intended to conform to the Centre's guidelines on use of funds.
Asserting that the direction was not aimed at dividing students in any way, she said the circular was worded in the manner to figure out whether minority students are in greater numbers so that "we could channelise Minority Welfare department funds into this scheme" and it was meant to benefit all.
"That's the government of India guideline. We are following that. It's a technical matter, nothing more," Banerjee told reporters in her state assembly chamber.
"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," she clarified.
Meanwhile, the West Bengal government also issued a clarification stating that the true fact about the circular was that it was aimed “to implement the Mid Day Meal scheme successfully, and to create the related infrastructure such as hygienic cooking shed and dining hall in State-run schools, the State Government pools funds from the budgets of various education-related Departments, while also ensuring that the facilities so created are used by all students, without any discrimination whatsoever.”
“This year, the State’s School Education Department has allocated approx.. Rs.200 crore for construction of dining halls under Mid Day Meal Scheme to cover 4,647 primary and 1524 Upper Primary schools. However, there is still a huge demand for dining halls under MDM in schools and this is why the Minority Affairs and Madrasah Education Department sanctions funds to State-run schools for construction of cooking shed and dining halls,” the release said.
The circular, issued by the Cooch Behar district magistrate office (minority section) on June 25, asked the district inspector of schools to send list of names of state-run and state-aided schools having more than 70 per cent minority students for sending a proposal for construction of dining halls for mid-day meals in schools.
The BJP used the issue to attack the Trinamool Congress government. West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh targeted the Mamata Banerjee government and questioned whether there was any "malafide motive" behind the "segregation".
"The West Bengal Government has issued a circular whereby it has directed the school authorities where 70% or more students are from the Muslim community to reserve a dining hall with seating arrangements for them," Ghosh tweeted.
The decision also drew criticism from other opposition parties in the state- Congress and CPI(M).