The Delhi High Court has said an entity that provided rotten chana (chickpeas) to school children as part of dry ration kits under PM-POSHAN Scheme during the Covid pandemic cannot be permitted to continue to supply food items as it brings a bad name to a noble cause initiated by the government.
Justice Subramonium Prasad, while hearing a petition by a society against its debarment from supplying mid-day meals under the scheme for providing “sub-standard” food items to a government school here, said the seriousness of the allegations cannot be overlooked as children are the future of the country.
The supply of rotten chana and dalda (a vegetable oil used for cooking) cannot be condoned as it was the duty of the petitioner to ensure that nutritious meal is provided to the children for their development, the court said.
“Supply of rotten chana or vanaspati and dalda cannot be condoned and persons who indulged in such activities cannot be permitted to continue to supply food items under PM-POSHAN Scheme. In fact it is incidents like these which bring bad name to a noble cause that has been initiated by the Government to encourage children to attend schools,” said the court in a recent order.
Since the order of debarment passed by the Directorate of Education did not specify the time limit, the court remanded the matter to the authorities to fix a timeline till which the petitioner shall be debarred from supplying mid-day meal.
In the present case, the petitioner had supplied a batch of dry food materials to a school here in 2022. It was subsequently found that the chana provided in the kit was rotten and vanaspati had been given in place of refined oil.
The petitioner assailed its consequent debarment on the ground that packets of chana were opened seven months after delivery and therefore rotting could not be ruled out.
It also said it was not specified by the authorities concerned that only refined oils were to be supplied and not vanaspati (vegetable oil).
The court said in order to ensure that the nationwide shut down of schools due to COVID-19 did not detrimentally affect children, an interim policy measure was introduced under the PM-POSHAN Scheme for supply of dry ration kits to schools.
The standards set under the original scheme in relation to cooked meals ought to be read to also apply to the ration kits, said the court, as it took “judicial notice of the fact that chana cannot rot in seven months time”.
“In any event, there is no reason for this court to doubt the receipts given in the month of August 2022 which show supply of chana to the school in question. It is not the case of the Petitioner that there is malice on the part of the Respondent or that the Order of debarment is effected by mala fides or that the Petitioner has been debarred to favour any other NGO or company,” the court said.
Actions undertaken involve due impact on public good concerning the health and well-being of children and highest care ought to be taken in ensuring the effective discharge of duties, it added.