Thousands of tribal students from across the state have decided to weather the monsoon rains and march to Nashik to fight against what they say is a threat to their food security. The students, who will start their march from Pune on July 13, are protesting against the decision of the government to do away with canteens at tribal hostels.
In April, the Maharashtra government changed the way the 491 tribal hostels in the state are run. Instead of floating tenders for running the canteens, the government decided to transfer money directly into the accounts of the students as ‘food money’. Based on RTI documents, The Indian Express had reported how the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system was apparently pushed in the hostels in view of growing complaints about food quality there.
Since the Government Resolution (GR) was issued, various students’ organisations have been up in arms against the move. Students say the government’s move will put a question mark over their food security as in a city like Pune the DBT amount (Rs 3,500 per month) will not be enough for three square meals a day. Also, they say, the move is a clear signal of the government turning a blind eye towards the problem of bad food being served in the hostels.
Madan Pathave, a student residing in the Manjri hostel of the tribal development department, said they decided to undertake the march as a means of protest. “When we met the minister, we were told it was an administrative decision while the administration said it was a decision taken by the government. With both trying to shift the blame on each other, students have decided to go to Nashik to protest as, at the end of the day, the administration is the implementing authority of any decision,” he said. Nashik is the headquarters of the Tribal Development Commissionerate.
Pathave admitted that the DBT system had received traction from some students. “However, in the long run, this is something which force tribal students to leave their education midway,” he said. Since April, Pathave and other student leaders have embarked on a major outreach programme in the tribal hostels, taking up the issue with hostellers. While Pathave has met students in Pune, Nashik, Mumbai and Thane, another leader Bablu Gaikwad has toured Dhule Nandurbar, Yavatmal and Nagpur. “We expect around 2,000 students to join the walk in Pune, more will join along the way,” he said. Tribal communities across the state have promised to arrange food and lodging along the way.