In a bid to improve quality and quantity of food served to tribal children in ashram shalas, residential schools run by the government in the tribal belt of the state, the Maharashtra government is phasing out the “khichdi” from the menu and replacing it with nutritious meals.
The food served would include fruits, eggs, dal, roti, rice and vegetables. To break the monotony of khichdi, a mixture of dal and rice served for lunch and dinner at the boarding schools, the government is introducing variety in breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The menu will include roti, pulao, mixed vegetables, aloo matar and aloo jeera.
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Food quality will be raised through the central kitchen. The state government’s Tribal Development Department, along with Akshay-Patra Foundation, will roll out a pilot project in Palghar and Nashik districts on August 1.
By December, it would cover all the 1,606 tribal institutions and benefit 5,06,399 children in Maharashtra.
In 2003, Devendra Fadnavis, then an opposition MLA had urged the former Congress-NCP government to consider central kitchens to raise quality of food served in ashram shalas. The response from successive chief ministers was positive but the proposal remained on paper.
Fadnavis said, “It is my dream project that has come true after 12 years. Nutritious food in ashram shalas will lead to a major socio-economic change. The state government will not compromise on food quality. And this is just one aspect of the larger socio-economic development plans complete with communication and industries in the tribal belts across the state.”
On June 10, 2015, Fadnavis, as the CM of the state, set the pilot project rolling at Kambalgaon in Palghar district and Mundhegaon in Nashik district. Central kitchens, complete with operational and logistic management, will be installed in June and July with government help. On August 1, 35 educational institutions covering 19,000 students would be provided nutritious meals. Capital expenditure would be borne by the Akshay Patra Foundation.
The state government will provide 40 per cent of the expenditure. Students will be served fruits, eggs, poha and upma for breakfast.
Lunch would comprise rotis, rice, dal, pulao, and vegetables. Snacks would include pakoda, vada, and flavoured milk. Rotis, rice, vegetables and dal would be served for dinner.
A senior tribal development ministry official said, “Ashram shalas have been neglected. There is no shortage of funds, with Rs 300 crore allotted to the department. But there is corruption and leakages.”
Citing a few instances, he said, “Last year, 40 children in Gondia district walked out of residential schools as they found pieces of glass and plastic in their food. The high dropout rate from tribal schools is also on account of poor quality and quantity of food. Often, substandard rice and pulses are supplied for cooking meals.”
“The government will not tolerate any exploitation of tribal children pursuing studies. They come from poor families and cannot be ill-treated in schools,” the chief minister said. The government also plans to improve the infrastructure of ashram shalas.