SHGs to meet Kunte today

Representatives of women self-help groups (SHGs) in charge of preparing mid-day meals for municipal school students in the city will meet Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte on Tuesday to express their objection to the civic body's move against renewing their contracts from December.

Jayashree Panchal, a leader of the organisation of women SHGs in the city, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had not provided any answer on how around 400 SHGs, which would be displaced from their jobs, would cope. In September, citing quality concern, the BMC had decided to discontinue the supply of khichdi by women SHGs to municipal schools.

The contract to feed over 4.5 lakh students attending the 1,174 BMC primary schools would instead be awarded to ISKCON Food Relief Foundation (IFRF) and Akshaya Patra in November. "Eight-nine central kitchens will be set up in the city to prepare mid-day meals. As it is a matter of feeding so many students, we will continue to work with self-help groups for some time," said Additional Municipal Commissioner Mohan Adtani at the time.

Samajwadi Party leader Raees Sheikh added that there would be no tendering process for the contract.

Since 1985, these self-help groups have been providing BMC schools with khichdi under the national Mid-day Meal Scheme. Each group comprises 15-20 families, who are dependent on the income they receive from the BMC for preparing khichdi. With 400 such groups likely to be displaced, the steady flow of income for 7,000-8,000 families will soon be uncertain.

"From 1985 till date, the daily rate for preparing khichdi has risen from 50 paise to a mere Rs 3. If they increase the rate like they will for ISKCON to Rs 11, even we will be able to provide better quality food," said Panchal.

"The Supreme Court had, in 2009, set some guidelines for the state government under which the mid-day meal should be carried out. It was clear-cut that self-help groups located near the schools would be given the contract of providing hot, fresh food to civic school students. How will those central kitchens be able to prepare fresh food and deliver in time for the children's lunch?"

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