Massive pressure from political party led women self-help groups (SHGs) has forced the government to back track on its intention to bring in reforms in the mid-day meal scheme, which is provided to over 70,000 schools in the state.
The mid-day meal scheme is the largest feeding scheme in India, where free food grains of 100 gm per child per school day is given by the government for primary school students.
In the last fortnight, the school education department received several complaints from schools and parents, along with photographic evidence, regarding poor state of kitchens in which the food for the mid-day meal was cooked. They were also told that organisations were pocketing money showing false attendance, said a senior official.
Following the complaints, the state government identified several organisations in the country, including Akshay Patra, run by philanthropist Sudha Murthy, where the entire food preparation process is mechanised and includes a whole meal of wheat and rice and pulses, which is functional in several states including Karnataka, as compared to just kichadi provided in Maharashtra.
The state government then sent out an expression of interest (EOI), inviting such institutions to bring healthy and hygienic mid-day meal systems in Maharashtra. However, this was not favourable to political parties.
"We are not going ahead with the EOI and have given it a stay. There are many SHGs which have three-year contracts that are yet to expire, so we will go ahead with the current system," said education minister Rajendra Darda.
But Darda is still keen to bring in the system in at least two municipal corporations, one in Aurangabad and other in Nagpur.