‘Children are future of the country’: Delhi High Court stresses accountability in PM-POSHAN Scheme after allegations of rotten food items

delhi high court

Delhi High Court: In a case wherein petition was filed challenging the order passed by the respondent, Directorate of Education, Mid-Day Meal Branch, whereby the petitioner was debarred from supplying mid-day meals under the Central Government’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme, after allegations of rotten food items, a Single Judge Bench of Subramonium Prasad, J.*, upheld the order of debarment and opined that the though actions undertaken involve due impact on public good concerning the health and wellbeing of children, highest care ought to be taken in ensuring the effective discharge of duties.


The petitioner was engaged in the work of providing dry ration and cooked meals under the mid-day meal scheme being run in Government Schools in Delhi. Considering the contingency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, instead of cooked and served meals in schools under the Central Government’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme, the Government of Delhi announced distribution of dry-ration kits containing six-month provision including wheat, rice, pulses and oil to students of classes Nursery to Class 8 in all Government and Government-aided schools in Delhi.

S.V.K. No. 2 School, Ghonda (‘school’) was among one of the schools receiving dry ration kits from the petitioner. The dispute arose when it was alleged that the petitioner supplied rotten chana and vanaspati/dalda in place of refined oil to the school. During a series of ‘Jan Sunwai”/Public Hearings of Social Audit under PM POSHAN scheme (earlier referred to as Mid-day Meal Scheme), Chief Consultant, PM POSHAN, Ministry of Education was informed that the dry ration kits which were supplied by the petitioner to the school had vanaspati/dalda in them in place of refined oil despite mentioning refined oil in the summary slip. Thereafter, show cause notice was issued against the petitioner for violation of PM POSHAN food norms to show cause as to why the petitioner should not be treated as negligent in supply of good quality ration and why action should not be taken against the petitioner for supplying sub-standard items, that is, vanaspati/dalda in place of refined oil and packets of rotten Chana which were not fit for human consumption.. Subsequently, after considering the responses, the respondent debarred the petitioner from supplying mid-day meals to any school of the respondent with immediate effect.

Hence, the petitioner approached this Court by filing the present writ petition.

Analysis, Law, and Decision

The Court observed that the guidelines issued by the respondent for the supply of dry ration kits to schools in Delhi was an interim policy measure to ensure that the lack of provision of Mid-Day meals under the PM-POSHAN Scheme during the period of COVID-19 due to nationwide shut down of schools did not detrimentally affect the ability of children eligible under the scheme to receive one nutritious meal a day. The standards set under the original scheme, therefore, were applicable to cooked meals, ought to be read to also apply to the ration kits supplied under the scheme thereof, which was merely introduced to remedy the inability of providing cooked meals during periods of school closures.

Thus, the Court opined that the contention of the counsel for the petitioner that the clarification given by the Ministry in 2017 applied only to the cooked meals and not to dry ration, could not be accepted.

The Court noted that chana could not rot in seven months’ time and did not accept the contention put forth by the counsel of the petitioner that supply of vanaspati/dalda was not specifically prohibited and chana might have rotted due to passage of time and rainy season. The Court opined that actions undertaken involve due impact on public good concerning the health and well-being of children, therefore, highest care ought to be taken in ensuring the effective discharge of the duties. The Court opined that the interpretation of ‘oil and fat’ to include under its ambit products like vanaspati/dalda were not justified by any stretch of imagination and due attention must have been paid by the petitioner as an NGO engaged under PM POSHAN, which ought to have been well conversant with the food norms of the scheme.

Expressing concern over the seriousness of the allegations, the Court opined that it was the duty of the petitioner to ensure that nutritious meal was provided to the children for their development and therefore, supply of rotten chana or vanaspati and dalda could not be condoned and persons who indulged in such activities could not be permitted to continue to supply food items under PM-POSHAN Scheme.

The Court further upheld the order of debarment and opined that it was settled law that debarment meant civil death and it could never be permanent and therefore, remanded the matter back to the respondent to fix a timeline for which the petitioner shall be debarred from supplying mid-day meal.

Accordingly, the writ petition was disposed of.

[Secretary, Food and Beverage Foundation Society Regd. v. Directorate of Education, Govt. (NCT of Delhi), 2023 SCC OnLine Del 4403, decided on 25-7-2023]

*Judgment by Justice Subramonium Prasad

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Petitioner: V. K. Garg, Senior Advocate; P.S. Singal, Advocate;

For Respondent: Anupam Srivastava, ASC; Vasuh Misra, Advocate.

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