In reprieve for the Maharashtra government, the Bombay High Court last week upheld the tenders issued by the state inviting contractors particularly women self help groups for providing 'Take Home Ration' and 'Hot Cooked Food' for poor children, pregnant women and lactating mothers under the Integrated Child Development Service Scheme (ICDSS).
A bench of Justices Ramesh Dhanuka and Madhav Jamdar was petitioned by an association of women self help groups challenging the August 2019 tenders issued under the scheme. The contention of this association having more than 200 groups, was that the state intentionally imposed certain 'arbitrary' conditions for the contractors to be eligible so as to leave no space for small groups and give away the contracts to 'big players.'
The very first challenge was to the condition that the contractor and its members must be local residents of the area, where they would be providing the meals. The judges, however, trashed the contention saying, "Women self-help groups normally operates in the local area and mostly the women associated with such groups are from lower strata of the society and fetching some income from such activities for their sustenance or additional income to support their family."
"These women, mostly by balancing their household work carry on said work for earning some income. Such women will prefer work near their residence," the judges opined.
The challenge to another condition that the contractor must mandatorily have weighing, packaging and cleaning machines apart from other equipment such as a roaster, the judges was uncalled for.
"It is significant to note that particular grams of ration is required to be given to the beneficiaries for ensuring the proper intake of proteins and vitamins. Apart from that a high standard of hygiene is required to be maintained in view of the tender being for supply of food. Thus, there is no substance in this contention," the judgment authored by Justice Jamdar, reads.
The bench further noted that the scheme of supplementary nutrition is basically for the benefit of children from 6 months to 6 years, apart from several underweight children, pregnant women and lactating mothers. "It is equally true that the said scheme is also for the benefit of local organization of women and self help groups. However, the state has to frame various terms and conditions in such a manner that the interest of beneficiaries as well as the interest of Mahila Bachat Gats are protected," the judges noted.
"In our view the factual position on record clearly shows that the state government has acted in a fair and reasonable manner in drafting the terms and conditions of the tender and while issuing it. Therefore, we see no reason to interfere with the impugned tender," the judges held.