Mumbai: Denying allegations that clay particles were found in chikki (a sweet snack) being supplied to students of state-run schools, Maharashtra government today told the Bombay High Court that a laboratory test of its sample did not reveal presence of any such inedible material. “No clay particles were found in a sample sent to a reputed government lab in Ghaziabad,” state government counsel Srihari Aney said during the hearing of a petition which alleged that sub-standard chikkis were being supplied to students in government-run schools.
A bench of Justices V M Kanade and Anuja Prabhudessai 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. Meanwhile, the bench extended till November 17 its interim order restraining the state government from distributing chikki to school students following complaints over its quality.
The government counsel informed the court that at present there was no stock of chikki left for distribution to the students and also that the date of the seized chikki stock had expired, hence it could not be used any more. The government filed an affidavit in reply to the PIL stating the procedures required to be followed for procurement of Chikki from the suppliers and also whether the purchase was made through auction or otherwise.
The high court had last month 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). The state had informed the court that the government had already stopped payments to the contractors. The state justified the capability of the manufacturer to supply chikki on a large scale and said the snack was still being supplied in schools run by municipal corporation in Navi Mumbai, Pune Zilla Parishad and other private bodies. This showed the quality of chikki was not sub-standard or else they would not be purchased by these institutions.
Pankaja Munde has been accused of irregularities in procurement of items worth Rs 206 crore, including chikki. It has also been alleged that the chikki, meant to be distributed to tribal students, had traces of clay.
Government informed the HC that only one report had indicated presence of clay in chikki while other reports had not said that it was sub-standard. However, the state had sent a sample for lab test in Ghaziabad, which did not reveal the presence of clay, said senior government counsel Shreehari Aney.
The minister concerned had informed the HC on the last occasion that she had ordered an inquiry after reports of chikki scam appeared in the media. FDA had also seized the entire stock meant for supply to anganwadi (government ashram residential schools).
The HC had in July issued notices to the state government, Pankaja Munde and others in response to the PIL which had sought a ban on distribution of chikki procured by the Women and Child Development Department. The petition also demands ban on manufacturing of chikki by three suppliers who had got the contract.
Besides Munde and the government, other respondents including the Chief Secretary, the Commissioner of Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and the three chikki manufacturers. The PIL refers to media reports about Munde receiving a complaint from Ahmednagar Zilla Parishad about the chikki provided to tribal students under ICDS. It also mentions the allegation that Munde’s department placed orders for chikki, mats, books, dishes, etc, worth in total Rs 206 crore, on a single day without e-tendering.