HC restrains Maharashtra govt from supplying chikki to students

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court today restrained Maharashtra government from distributing chikki (a sweet snack) to school students in the wake of complaints that a sub-standard product was being supplied.

The High Court also asked the government not to make payments to the contractors who had supplied the chikki for free distribution to students of Anganwadis (primary schools in tribal areas).

Government counsel Srihari Aney told the court that the government had already stopped payments to the contractors. The division bench, headed by Justice V M Kanade, said it was passing the order in the interest of the health of children and in view of the allegations made by the petitioners that the chikki was being distributed to students despite an earlier assurance given by the state government to the court that it had been stopped after July 10.

The judges made it clear that they were not expressing opinion on the merits of the case or the procedures to be adopted for awarding food supply contracts.

The bench said it wanted to know whether the government had considered the capability of the manufacturer to supply chikki on a large scale and directed it to file an affidavit on this aspect within four weeks.

The government maintained that distribution of chikki had stopped after July 10, whereas the petitioners alleged that it was still being distributed. The government also informed the HC that only one report had indicated presence of clay in chikki; no other report indicated that it was sub-standard, though a test report from one of the laboratories was still awaited.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Sandeep Ahire and others seeking an inquiry by a retired High Court judge into the alleged Rs 206 crore 'chikki scam', for which Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde had come under fire.

Munde's department has been accused of procurement of chikki and some other items, worth Rs 206 crore, without e-tendering. It was also alleged that some batches of chikki, meant to be distributed to tribal students, had traces of clay.

To a question by Justice Kanade whether the minister felt it was her responsibility to assist the court in this case, Munde's lawyer advocate Niteen Pradhan said the minister had ordered an inquiry immediately after reports of the scam appeared in the media.

In July this year, the HC had issued notices to the state government, Pankaja Munde and others in response to the PIL. The petition also demands a ban on manufacturing of chikki by the three concerned suppliers.

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