The mid-day meal scheme for school children, if implemented properly, is good, but its commercialisation would not serve its purpose, the Bombay High Court said on Wednesday. The observation was made by a division bench of the high court headed by Chief Justice Manjula Chellur, which was hearing a PIL alleging supply of sub-standard ‘chikki’ (a type of sweet snack) to schools run by the Maharashtra government.
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“If implemented properly, mid-day meal schemes for schoolchildren are good, but they do not serve the purpose for which they are introduced, if they are commercialised,” the bench observed.
The bench also indicated that it would frame rules for the mid-day meal scheme, which would involve a periodic check of the food supplied to students in schools.
The suggestion to frame rules by the high court was given by Ravi Kadam, who appeared on behalf of the contractors.
Kadam demanded that the contractors of the mid-day meal scheme be refunded deposits paid by them as the laboratory reports of six ‘chikki’ samples sent to them did not show any contamination or sub-standard quality.
Responding to this, the high court said that it would consider their plea at a later stage and adjourned the matter for hearing in January 2017 after the Christmas vacation.
Soon after the alleged ‘chikki’ scam came to light, the Maharashtra government formed a high-power committee to go into purchases of various commodities, including chikki, made by various departments on rate contract basis in the last 15 years.
The PIL, filed by activist Sandeep Ahire and others, sought an inquiry by a retired high court judge into the scam for which Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde had come under fire from various quarters.
The petition alleged that clay and mud particles were found in ‘chikki’ supplied to students in state-run schools.
The government had earlier denied the allegation and said that “no clay particles were found in the sample sent to a reputed government lab in Ghaziabad”.
The high court had, in an interim order, earlier restrained the Maharashtra government from distributing ‘chikki’ to school students following complaints over its quality.
The HC also asked the government to stop making payments to the contractors, who had supplied ‘chikki’ for free distribution to students of anganwadis.
The high-powered committee, set up by the government in November 2015, consists of the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) and the Principal Secretary (Industries). The panel was asked by the state government to examine the purchases made by various departments on rate contract basis from 2001 to 2015.