It is not a new thing that government officials go on trips abroad to enhance their expertise required for various projects. However, doesn't it sound bizarre when they want to travel abroad to learn how to cook and serve khichuri, a popular local dish, among schoolchildren?
Yet, such a "knowledge-gathering" tour appears to be a necessity to the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) as it seeks approval to send 1,000 government officials abroad for a "khichuri training" under the primary school feeding programme.
Many such foreign tours by government officials with public money hit the headlines on different occasions. The prime minister has repeatedly asked public officials to avoid travelling abroad unnecessarily.
The tour will be arranged for officials to see how schools in different countries buy ingredients from markets, cook khichuri and distribute it among schoolchildren, according to sources at the DPE and the Planning Commission.
Officials from the DPE, the primary and mass education ministry, the Planning Commission, and the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division will get the opportunity to travel abroad in five years.
Ruhul Amin Khan, a DPE official and project director at the ongoing school feeding programme in poverty-prone areas, said a foreign training of 1,000 officials has been proposed in five years so that they can learn how to cook and distribute khichuri among students. Under the proposed programme, cooked food will be provided to schools across the country.
So, foreign training is needed to implement this programme, he added.
The DPE has initially sought Tk5 crore for the foreign tour while it demanded Tk10 crore for training at home under the proposed school feeding programme.
The programme implementation cost has been estimated at Tk19,283 crore. In the next five years, khichuri and nutritious biscuits will be distributed among around 1.48 crore school kids in 509 upazilas.
The Planning Commission wants to exclude the foreign tour from the proposed programme and has also sought a clarification on the rationale for a local training.
The distribution of nutritious biscuits and meals among primary school students is not new in the country. The DPE has been doing it for a long time, it added.
Last year, they visited different schools in India and saw how cooking is done there. They want to give more officers a chance to gather experience in this regard under the proposed programme, Ruhul Amin Khan highlighted.
However, they have not yet decided which country they will travel to. It will be decided after the project is approved, he added.
Meanwhile, the Planning Commission has also identified several other unnecessary expenses estimated under the programme alongside the domestic and foreign training.
It has questioned the justification for the proposal to spend Tk7.5 crore on social mobilisation and Tk6 crore on consultancies.
The commission also sought an explanation on the proposal to purchase air conditioners at Tk8 lakh and Tk2 crore for furniture.
The DPE also sought Tk5 crore for organising meetings, seminars and workshops.
Under the project, Tk17,186 crore has been estimated for food purchases, Tk17 crore for food supply and Tk113.54 for plate purchases.
Further, an allocation of Tk190.87 crore has been proposed, keeping in mind the cost contingency.
The Planning Commission thinks that such estimated costs, logically, should be reduced without requiring any assessment.
Under the proposed project, the DPE also wants to purchase an SUV and six microbuses at a cost of Tk3.50 crore. It has also sought Tk1.50 crore for vehicle maintenance, Tk60 lakh for fuel and lubricant and Tk20 lakh for commutes.
The commission has sought a logical explanation for vehicle-related expenses.
The DPE demanded Tk5 crore for project inspection and evaluation.
Shopon Kumar Gosh, chief of Socio-Economic Infrastructure Division under the Planning Commission, "There is no logic for a foreign trip under the project. The prime minister has also directed to stop all foreign trips for now. We will give approval to the project after thorough scrutiny."
Under the ongoing School Feeding Programme in poverty-prone areas, high-quality nutritious biscuits – weighing 75 grams – are being distributed among primary school children in the country's 104 upazilas. The Tk50 crore project, which began in 2010, will end in December this year.
Additionally, according to the 2019 National School Meal Policy, vegetable and egg khichuri are being served to over four lakh students.