The Bombay High Court recently refused to set aside a state tender notice, issued through centralised process, to provide meals to children in urban areas across 19 districts at Rs 245 crore. The court’s Aurangabad bench said interfering at this stage would delay supply of food grains to children from disadvantaged and poor sections of society, causing malnourishment.
The court said it was not inclined to deprive the children from 7,549 schools of nutritious food during the pandemic. A women’s cooperative, which had earlier supplied mid-day meals through tenders issued at district level, alleged that the change in the tender process was intended to benefit prominent contractors close to the government.
A division bench of Justice Sanjav V Gangapurwala and Justice Shrikant D Kulkarni passed the order on a plea filed by the Indira Mahila Sahakari Gruh Udyog, challenging the January 7 tender notice to supply food grains to schools attached to the central kitchen under the mid-day meal scheme in districts through the Directorate of Primary Education.
Advocates P D Bachate and D S Bagul for the petitioner organisation said: “The terms and conditions of the tender notice are tailor-made and suit a particular class of contractors. The tender is issued to exclude small suppliers and give contracts to the large ones.”
The plea added that the centralised tender is not in consonance with the policy under the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (mid-day meal scheme) and provisions of the National Food Security Act, 2013, and therefore, it should be quashed.
Senior counsel R N Dhorde for the state said provisions of the 2013 law could not be implemented due to lockdown. He referred to the March 2020 Supreme Court order that had observed that non-supply of nutritional food to children along with lactating mothers during the pandemic will lead to large-scale malnourishment. Thereafter, the Centre approved the provisions of the Food Security Allowance comprising food grains, pulses and oil to all eligible children in lieu of hot-cooked meals.
Dhorde said it became necessary in such an emergent situation to take a decision and a one-time tender to supply the food grains was issued. He added that the tender was restricted to 17 municipal corporations and 31 municipal councils in 19 districts and supply of food grains will continue till the opening of the schools.
Justice Gangapurwala-led bench observed that the mid-day meal scheme suffered a setback owing to the pandemic. It added, “It would be clear that the tender notice is issued with a bonafide intention…interfering at this stage would delay the supply of food grains to children from disadvantaged and poor sections of society and also we do not see any malafide in issuing said tender notice.”