The government has rejected the controversial project to provide khichuri to primary school students as a midday meal, with the prime minister expressing her concern that cooked food may hamper pupils' studies.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec), reaching the decision on Tuesday at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, sent the project proposal back.
At the meeting, the prime minister directed officials to assess how nutritious biscuits, milk, or packaged food could be given to students instead of khichuri.
"The project hasn't been approved as the Prime Minister is concerned about its structure (modus operandi). She said cooking Khichuri in schools might hamper the study of students," said Planning Minister MA Mannan.
Addressing a press briefing after the meeting, Planning Minister MA Mannan said the project had been scrapped as the prime minister and other Ecnec members did not appreciate cooked food as a midday meal.
Nasima Begum, a member of the Planning Commission's socio-economic infrastructure division, said students were supposed to be given nutritious biscuits three days a week and khichuri for the remaining three days under the project.
She said khichuri would have eventually been given on all six days had the project been approved.
The prime minister had also directed officials to involve the local community, guardians and the affluent section of society in the midday meal programme, added Nasima Begum.
The project proposal, with an estimated cost of Tk19,283crore, was sent to the Planning Commission in July last year. It was widely slammed after The Business Standard published a report, titled "Cooking khichuri? Let's go on a foreign trip", on 14 September.
At the time, the Planning Commission raised objections to several aspects of the project, including expenses estimated for officials' training both at home and abroad.
The project was sent again to the commission in February this year after reducing costs to Tk17,290 crore, and was tabled at Tuesday's Ecnec meeting.
Nine projects approved
Although the project was scrapped, nine others costing Tk5,239.62 crore were approved at the meeting.
The prime minister attended the meeting from Ganabhaban while other Ecnec members did so from the National Economic Council conference room in the capital's Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.
The planning minister told the briefing that delays in obtaining clearance from the Department of Environment hold up project implementations.
Implementation of a project should begin by considering whether the Department of Environment had consented to it or if the clearance could not be obtained on time, he quoted the prime minister as saying.
But the environment department will still need to issue environmental impact reports for projects detrimental to the environment, he said.
He also said the prime minister had directed officials to ensure that unplanned sluice gates do not block the flow of rivers or canals.
"Many sluice gates are damaged within a year and a half of their installations, harming rivers and canals."
A Tk237 crore project was approved for Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) in Narayanganj at the meeting.
Mamun Al Rashid, a member of the physical infrastructure division of the Planning Commission, said setting up BGB battalions in Narayanganj, Savar, Ashulia and Abdullahpur had been planned as a large number of factories had sprung up around Dhaka.
He said this would make it easy for BGB members to handle workers' unrest.