A central team's ongoing visit to West Bengal to look into alleged irregularities in the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme has triggered a political slugfest in the state.
The ruling Trinamool Congress dubbed the visit a result of “political vendetta”, while the opposition BJP accused the ruling dispensation of trying to “hide a scam”.
A 13-member central team on Monday started a review of the mid-day meal scheme in schools in West Bengal.
The joint review mission, comprising Union education ministry officials, a nutritionist, a UNICEF representative, along with PM Poshan Scheme Director V Bhaskar, also held a meeting with state education department officials.
The state's political cauldron has been on the boil for the last few days due to allegations and counter-allegations over “irregularities” in the mid-day meal scheme after it allegedly came to light that in many government schools, students were not being provided with adequate nutritious food as per the norms set by the Union government.
The ruling TMC slammed the Centre over the team's visit and claimed that the allegations were being brought to malign the state government.
"The motive behind sending the central team is only to harass the state government and malign our image. The Centre doesn't clear our dues; we run mid-day meal schemes from our exchequer," TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier on various occasions dubbed central teams' visits to look into the implementation of various central schemes as attempts to "pursue political vendetta".
Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, who had lodged a complaint with the Union education ministry seeking a visit of a central team, claimed that the state government officers accompanying the central team were misleading the team.
"Central Inspection Team's being led by WB Govt Officials to a few handpicked schools to review Mid Day Meal implementation. Result - Cooking staff wearing aprons & gloves. Neat & clean kitchen. They should randomly select the school & reach there abruptly to catch them off guard," he tweeted.
Adhikari wondered how those “searching for the truth could rely on those trying their best to cover up”.
"It's like, in search of reality, you're relying on those who are trying their best to cover up & conceal the truth. The cooking staff are instructed to play along. Their incentive - salary before time. This is WB; I won't be surprised even if the schoolchildren were threatened," he said in another Twitter post.
Adhikari alleged that funds allocated for the mid-day meal scheme were diverted to other projects.
The TMC spokesperson dubbed his allegations as baseless.
"The state government is implementing the mid-day meal scheme in the best possible way despite severe financial crunch as the Centre has stopped funds. Instead of accusing us, he should ask his political bosses to release funds for the state," Ghosh said.
Meanwhile, in Haringhata area of North 24 Parganas district, the central team faced protests by BJP supporters, who demanded that they accompany the team to “find out the truth”.
Some BJP activists carrying posters and placards surrounded the vehicles of the team members and demanded that they be allowed to accompany the team.
The police later removed the crowd.
State minister Partha Bhowmick dubbed the BJP supporters "illiterates who don't know the norm that no party functionary can accompany a central team during its visit”.
The Centre has recently allocated Rs 372 crore to the state under the PM Poshan scheme to provide nutritious food to school students.
It also released an additional Rs 250 crore to the school education department for infrastructural development.
The BJP-led Union government had earlier sent teams to oversee the implementation of the MGNREGA scheme in the state and to look into the alleged irregularities in the PM Awas Yojana scheme.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)