A day after a dead lizard was found in the lunch served to students at a government hostel in Chembur, the Social Welfare and Justice department has proposed to discontinue the canteen service and instead pay the students a food allowance. In a report submitted to the Commissionerate of Social Welfare and Justice on Monday, the assistant commissioner has proposed that students be provided an allowance instead of cooked food and a canteen service. The department already pays such an allowance to students living in hostels in Pune and Latur, after complaints of unhygienic and poor-quality food surfaced there.
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On Monday afternoon, Rahul Jambhulkar and his friend Sunil Tapre, both residents of Sant Eknath Government Hostel for meritorious students from the backward classes, found a dead lizard in the lunch served to them. They informed other students and a police complaint was subsequently registered against the mess contractor. Following this, officials of the Social Welfare and Justice department conducted an inquiry into the matter. The assistant commissioner’s report also says that there are doubts on whether the lizard had been in the food while it was being cooked. In his report, assistant commissioner for the Mumbai Suburban district, Avinash Deosatwar, has stated that though the lizard could be clearly seen on the plate, it could have fallen into the curry after it was cooked.
On Monday, around 120 students living in the hostel had threatened to protest if the department failed to appoint a new mess contractor. “We have demanded that the current mess contract be cancelled immediately, failing which we will protest. They call it a minor lapse, but it could have killed students,” said Aditya Shrawasti, a hostel resident and member of Prahar Vidyarthi Sanghatana. The department said it wanted to take a “student-friendly” decision.
“We are looking at the solutions proposed by our district officer in his report. The matter is serious and needs to be resolved tactfully. We want to take student-friendly decisions within the purview of law,” said Yashwant More, Divisional Deputy Commissioner, Social Welfare and Justice department. At present, the department charges each student Rs 3,950 per month for the food. This means that at Rs 130 per day, each student in the hostel is served breakfast along with two boiled eggs and two fruits, lunch and dinner. Students are served non-vegetarian food twice a week at no additional cost.
“The rates are as per tenders passed in 2012. There is a court case on the cost of food served at the hostel mess and the matter has been stayed, so the charge for the food cannot be increased. Hence, the department is forced to serve food at the 2012 rates,” said an official.