In a significant order, the Bombay High Court has asked the Maharashtra Government not to impose the burden of managing mid-day meal scheme for students on teachers, calling it "non-educational work".
Putting such non-teaching responsibility on teachers would amount to violation of section 27 of the Education Act, a division bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka ruled on Thursday. Section 27 provides that "no teacher shall be deployed for any non-educational purposes other than the decennial population census, disaster relief duties or duties relating to elections to the local authority or the State Legislatures or Parliament, as the case may be", the court noted.
The court was hearing a bunch of petitions filed by women's organisations challenging two Government Resolutions regarding implementation of the mid-day meal scheme. The court referred to the State Government guidelines dated July 22, 2013 which provide that the headmasters or the senior teachers shall visit central kitchens (where meals are prepared) in urban areas once a month to ensure hygiene.
Teacher are supposed to taste the food before it is served to the students every day. "The said duties entrusted to the head masters/teachers have nothing to do with education. The scheme may be a welfare measure adopted by the state but teachers cannot be burdened with non-educational work," said the judges.
The High Court also directed the state Government to create, within a month, an independent authority consisting of expert agencies for periodical supervision of central kitchens in urban areas to ensure quality of the food.
However, the court refused to interfere with the policy decisions which were a part of the Government Resolutions under the challenge. "The challenge to the Government Resolutions dated 18th June, 2009 and 2nd February, 2011 has no merit and the same is rejected. Accordingly, the challenge to the decision (notified in the GR) to establish central kitchens in urban areas is also rejected," the bench ruled. However, we direct the state government to ensure that no teacher including head master shall be deployed for any work in connection with the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme including the job of visiting the central kitchens and the job of tasting the food and maintaining a register," the High Court said.
The state government has been asked to file a compliance report by April. The Central Government introduced the mid-day meal scheme in 1995 for providing nutritious food to the school children.
In June 2009, Maharashtra Government introduced 'central kitchens' in urban areas for supplying cooked food to school children. The petitions challenged this, as earlier the contract to supply food was given to local women's groups.