In a bylane in Ravindra Nagar Chawl area,Borivali East,a 550-sq ft room has been divided into three for storage,washing and cooking.
Around 4 am,Jugai Janai Mahila Samaj,a self-help group (SHG),starts preparing the midday meal for roughly 3,000 municipal school students in the Mumbai north-west region.
Khichdi is cooked in a vessel with 55-kg capacity. Different varieties of grains and pulses are used through the week.
Those working in the stuffy room must bear the stench from a closed toilet block between the storage area and kitchen.
Water supplied by BMC is stored in plastic cans and used for cooking. In the kitchen,water is stored in two large vats for a day when there is a shortage.
Large steel cans of the meal are sent to municipal schools 20-30 minutes away in a rented rickshaw.
Four people cook the meal. In a week,we cook around 200 kg of grains. Morning,day and evening schools have recesses at different times,so we finish cooking by 2.30 pm and cleaning by 6 pm, said Manisha Deshmukh,leader of the group.
The group has been supplying food to BMC schools and state government anganwadis since 2002.
Deshmukh said the SHG shifted to Borivali East as its 700-sq ft room near Kora Kendra in Borivali West was part of a building being redeveloped.
It will take four-five years before we can move back.
Deshmukh said sustaining food quality at Rs 3.2 per meal at the current rate of inflation was tough.
The state provides grains at a subsidy but the remaining ingredients,including condiments,have to be purchased from the Vashi wholesale market. We go there once a month. In the past year,the cost of an LPG cylinder has risen from Rs 400 to Rs 1,800 but the state does not accommodate inflated prices of fuel and vegetables, she said.
Officials in the civic education department said the cooking premises and quality of food were checked every week. Every month,a sample of khichdi is sent to the BMC lab for quality and hygiene testing.
Food prepared by Jugai Janai Mahila Samaj is supplied to eight schools with roughly 1,500 students at the recently renovated BMC building next to Prabodhankar Thackeray Hall in Borivali West.
Fresh khichdi is brought from the kitchen and served to students during recess. It is served in tiffin boxes provided by BMC. We also offer second helpings, said Vinod Sankhe,principal of the Marathi school in the building.
The quality of khichdi differs with SHG. In some schools,the taste is not as good as it is here. I do not bring my lunch,I eat a midday meal, he said.
While the khichdi served on Monday had more salt,BJP corporator Bina Doshi,who had raised the issue of midday meal quality in a civic general body meeting last year,said there were other problems too. Often,there is more water than grains in the meal. Also,there is no variety. How can children eat the same food every day when we cannot? she said.