The Delhi High Court on Monday criticised the Delhi Government for not suspending the food supply from a vendor after a dead lizard was found in the mid-day meal served in a government school at Mangolpuri in North West Delhi in November 2010, thereby leading to two more such incidents thereafter.

Dismissing the petition by Royal Educational and Social Welfare Society, whose contract for mid-day meal was cancelled by the Delhi Government in January 2013 after three incidents of lizards being found in food, the Bench of Justice Manmohan said: “The Court is of the view that inaction on the part of the respondents in not immediately suspending the petitioner’s contract amounted to putting life of the students at risk.”

Consequently, he said, “the court is also of the opinion that the petitioner cannot derive undue benefit from the fact that it was permitted to supply mid-day meal for a long period after the first or last incident”.

The Society and the Delhi Government had in September 2009 signed a memorandum of understanding for supply of mid-day meals in government and government-aided schools of the Directorate of Education till September 2012. On November 26, 2010, a dead lizard was found in the mid-day meal supplied by the petitioner to SKV School ‘O’ Block, Mangolpuri. In the reply filed by the Society, it was stated that positioning of the dead lizard on the surface of the container was clear indication of foul play by some unknown miscreants.

The Inquiry Committee that was set up to examine the allegation concluded that due to alertness of the Vice-Principal and a member of the school level mid-day meal monitoring committee, the dead lizard was noticed before serving the mid-day meal to students.

Then again on August 25, 2011, during distribution of mid-day meal supplied by the Society to SKV School Pooth Kalan, a dead lizard was found in a Society container. “Ten students complained of abdominal pain and nausea. While five students were admitted to the nearby New Rohini Hospital, Avantika, Sector-1, Rohini, the other five students were admitted to Hitashi Hospital, Sector-8, Rohini, for treatment. An FIR 207/2011 under Section 366 IPC was also registered with police station Begumpur, Delhi, on the statement of witnesses,” the court noted.

The third incident of a live lizard was reported on August 29, 2011. The lizard was found in a container of the mid-day meal supplied by the Society to Government Girls Senior Secondary School, Sector -20, Rohini.

In connection with these incidents, the Delhi Government had on January 4 this year issued the order cancelling the Society’s contract to serve mid-day meal in its school.

Taking notice of the “fact that most of the State Governments in India have introduced mid-day meal schemes to encourage children from poor strata to attend school and pursue education”, the court said: “It is of paramount importance that the food served under mid-day meal scheme is hygienic and of good quality. If this condition is not met it would defeat the very purpose of enacting mid-day meal schemes.”

“Moreover,” Justice Manmohan added, “life of innocent children supersedes all other interests. Consequently, a zero tolerance policy with regard to food poisoning/contamination has to be adopted.”

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