Circular on dining rooms in minority-dominated Bengal schools sparks row



The West Bengal government's decision to construct mid-day meal dining rooms in every state-run schools with at least 70 per cent students from the minority community has triggered yet another controversy with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accusing it of discrimination and even questioning if there was any 'malafide motive' behind the move.

According to a circular issued by the Cooch Behar District Magistrate's office, the state Minority Affairs and Madrasah Education Department has sought a list of state-run and state-sponsored schools with more than 70 per cent students from the minority community for the project.

The district education officials and school inspectors have been asked to submit a list of such schools where dining halls will be constructed.

"The West Bengal Government has issued a circular whereby it directed the school authorities where 70 per cent or more students are from the Muslim community to reserve a dining hall with seating arrangements for them," Bengal BJP Chief Dilip Ghosh wrote on social media, criticising the order.

"Why this discrimination among students on the basis of religion? Is there some other malafide motive behind this segregation? Another conspiracy," he asked.

However, the state government has termed the allegations as 'distorted and untrue', saying that the Minority Affairs department had sanctioned funds as part of critical gap funding as there was huge demand for dining halls in mid-day meal schools.

"The state's School Education Department has allocated approximately Rs 200 crore for construction of dining halls under the mid-day meal scheme to cover 4,647 primary and 1,524 upper primary schools. But due to huge demand, the Minority Affairs Department and the Backward Classes Welfare Department are providing the critical gap funding," a circular issued by the state Minority Affairs Department said.

It also mentioned that similar critical gap funding for infrastructure development of schools in areas with more than 25 per cent minority population was also provided by the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs.

The state's MoS for Minority Affairs Giasuddin Mollah said the scheme has been taken up for the benefit of all the students, and accused the BJP of deliberately trying to bring in a Hindu-Muslim communal divide over the issue.

"First of all, minorities are not just Muslims. There are students of several other religions like Christians who fall in the bracket. The scheme initially targets schools with more than 70 per cent minority students, but it will also be implemented in other schools later," Mollah told IANS.

"Secondly, once the dining rooms are constructed, all the students, irrespective of their community, will have proper arrangement to have their mid-day meal. All of them will have food together. The BJP is deliberately trying to bring in a Hindu-Muslim angle to create controversy," he added.

Muslims constitute 27 per cent of West Bengal's population and are a majority in a number of districts such as Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur. IANS