With the BJP accusing the West Bengal government of discrimination on the basis of religion for its directive for construction of dining halls for mid-day meals in schools having more than 70 per cent students from the minority community, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday clarified that the decision was only intended to conform to the Centre’s guidelines on the use of Minority Welfare Department funds.
Speaking to reporters at her chamber in the Assembly, Banerjee said, “The circular was worded in the manner to figure out where minority students are in greater numbers so that we could channelise the Minority Welfare Department funds… It is a Government of India guideline and we are following that. It’s a technical matter, nothing more.”
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh had posted a copy of the circular online on Thursday and slammed the administration for the move, alleging discrimination and triggering a row.
However, Banerjee clarified that the circular was not meant to divide students on the basis of religion. “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. This was supposed to be for schools that don’t have dining halls and where students are forced to eat outside,” Banerjee said.
MoS for Minority Affairs and Madrasa Education, Giasuddin Mollah, said they are just utilising funds allocated for madrasa education. “Funds have been allotted for madrasa education and we are utilising it by issuing such a circular. We have asked the state-run schools, which have 70 per cent or more minority students, to construct a dining hall for mid-day meal. We are not doing anything extra for the minority students, as funds for such measures have been given to us by both the state and central governments,” he said.
On Friday evening, the State Department of Minority Affairs and Madrasa Education said the move was to implement the mid-day meal scheme successfully with necessary infrastructure and the facilities created are used by all. “Similarly, for schools with substantial SC/ST students, such critical gap funding is provided by the Backward Classes Welfare Department. However, the assets/ facilities created from such pooled funds are open to all,” it said in a statement.
Congress MLA and Leader of Opposition Abdul Mannan said, “The government cannot segregate… on the basis of religion.”
CPM MLA Sujan Chakraborty said, “If a dining hall is being constructed, it should be for all. We condemn this move.”