The Delhi government may approach the Supreme Court and the Centre for re-introducing packaged food instead of cooked midday meals in government schools.
"Earlier, the (meal) scheme was limited to students till Class VI, but now it has been extended till Class VIII. The increase in volume of students had to be dealt with," said Delhi education minister Arvinder Singh Lovely.
"Although there is a Supreme Court order that directs that only cooked meals can be served to school students, we are exploring if any other states are serving packed food."
His comments come in the wake of the November 25 food-poisoning incident at a girls' government school in Trilokpuri in west Delhi, when 120 students fell ill after having the midday. On October 29, 2009, 18 students of another school in Sagarpur, had suffered food poisoning from their midday meal.
Lovely said he had asked the education department to submit a list of food items that meets the recommended calorie intake of the students and can be packaged.
Government officials said more than 8 lakh students (800,000) have midday meals every day in Delhi.
Packaged food, no way
The Planning Commission in 2008 shot down a proposal by then Union Minister of Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury to give packaged meals to three to six year olds at Anganwadi centres. They were worried that contractors may siphon off funds and food material.
The SC order directing distribution of cooked meals in schools was prompted by complaints of sub-standard food - past expiry and rotting in some cases - being served to children.
In many places, the packaged food was re-routed to the open market.
In April 2001, People's Union for Civil Liberties (Rajasthan) initiated the right to food litigation in the Supreme Court. The litigation highlighted how students were given packaged food that failed to meet the recommended calorie intake.
Lovely, however, cited practical problems.
"In a big city like Delhi, the distance and traffic can often hinder proper distribution of food. Also, principals can check only a small sample, not the entire food consignment," he said.
Some were not convinced. Lawyer Ashok Aggarwal, who runs an NGO, Social Jurist, asked: "When there is provision to construct a kitchen-cum-store in the school under the Right to Education Bill, why is the government so keen on giving packaged food?"