The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the Maharashtra government as to why no offence or First Information Report (FIR) has been registered so far against the suppliers who allegedly distributed sub-standard chikki (a type of sweet snack made with nuts and jaggery) to state government-run schools in 2015.
The then state Women and Child Development Minister and BJP leader Pankaja Munde had come under fire from various quarters for allegedly favouring certain suppliers to provide the chikki under Integrated Child Development Scheme by awarding contracts worth Rs 206 crore.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing PILs filed by activist Sandeep Ahire and others in 2015, alleging supply of sub-standard chikki to schools and seeking a court-monitored inquiry into the alleged scam claiming irregularities in awarding contracts, which ran into several crores.
“Why are there no offences registered under the Food Safety Act against suppliers? Your officers are busy filing small cases in matters pertaining to pedhas and barfis (adulteration in sweets). Why not in these cases where children are suffering?” Justice Kulkarni asked the Maharashtra government.
The petitioner’s lawyer submitted that substandard quality of chikki was distributed to children, adding there were nearly 24 contracts/purchases orders amounting over Rs 200 crore. The petition alleged that products were tested in government laboratories and that clay and mud particles were found in the chikki supplied to the students.
The court was informed that the HC had passed an interim order through which contracts and payments to the contractors were stayed. The petitioner further said that a state government resolution (GR) issued in 1992 provided for procedures to be followed in awarding contracts and in the case in point, the purchase orders were issued in a single day flouting prescribed procedure.
The bench then asked the petitioners to submit in “bullet points” as to how, according to them, the procedure of awarding contracts for chikki was not properly followed.
“Focus on procedural aspects and see whether the procedure was as per norms. See whether it was tainted or an illegal contract (was given) and if contractors were ineligible. We can go into the question of inferior quality of the product at a later stage,” the court said.
The HC also sought to know from the parties to the case as to what the Central policy was for distributing nutrients to children.
Thereafter, the bench asked Government Pleader Priyabhushan P Kakade whether any FIR had been filed in the case against the suppliers, to which Kakade sought time to respond. However, the petitioners claimed no such cases against suppliers have been registered as yet.
Seeking response from the state government, the bench adjourned the matter for further hearing after three weeks.