Delhi could become the first state in the country to ban sale of junk food like pizzas, burgers, pakoras and carbonated soft drinks in its school canteens.
The Delhi high court on Wednesday asked the Delhi government not to wait for the all India guidelines to be framed by Union health ministry to ban sale of junk food in school canteens saying it was empowered by its own school education rules to do so.
“By April 17, we want to know what instructions can be issued by the Delhi government to ban sale of junk food and carbonated drinks in schools canteens. Education directorate can invoke rule 43 of the Delhi School Education Act to do so”, a bench of chief justice D Murugesan and justice VK Jain said.
“Centre will take its own time by forming committees, ordering surveys etc. It is to be remembered that health ministry was for the first time asked to frame guidelines last year January and till now they are not done with their survey. Delhi government can act on its own if it wants a fast ban”, the court said.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by social activist Rahul Verma of NGO Uday Foundation seeking a ban on junk food in schools across the country. “It is time we change the way kids eat in schools. Such a ban will set new standards for healthy food. On one hand, children are taught in classrooms about good nutrition ... on the other hand, we continue to make junk food available to them.”, he said.
Verma said most schools allow easy access to junk foods and carbonated drinks for children in canteens and nearby shops.
The health ministry told the court it was determined to ensure that only hygienic food is made available to students and also plans to gradually ban “unhealthy” junk food. Additional Solicitor General appearing for the ministry Rajeev Mehra said Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has entrusted the task of framing the guidelines to AC Nielsen QRG-MARG pvt ltd
The agency has been asked to conduct a nationwide survey of existing standard of food supplied in school canteens and suggest measures to improve them.
“There are several reported incidents of food poisoning in the schools due to unhygienic food served in schools.
There is an increase in the quantity and variety of junk foods sold within the school premises that may have deleterious effect on child health both in short and long term. Incidents may be many more but they go unreported due to interior location and poor communication”, the ministry told the court.