'Nutrition Needs Of Children Not Compromised In New Menu': Lakshadweep Administration Responds To Kerala High Court

Hannah M Varghese

13 July 2021 11:25 AM GMT

  • Nutrition Needs Of Children Not Compromised In New Menu: Lakshadweep Administration Responds To Kerala High Court

    'Nutrition needs of the children can easily be satisfied with the altered menu,' the Lakshadweep Administration recently submitted before the Kerala High Court in response to a plea challenging, among other things, removal of non-vegetarian food items from mid-day meal food menu for school children.Earlier, a Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly...

    'Nutrition needs of the children can easily be satisfied with the altered menu,' the Lakshadweep Administration recently submitted before the Kerala High Court in response to a plea challenging, among other things, removal of non-vegetarian food items from mid-day meal food menu for school children.

    Earlier, a Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly had stayed the impugned regulation, observing that the menu for the mid-day meal has been followed for several years. The development came on a PIL filed by Advocate Ajmal Ahmed R.

    However, in its statement, the Administration alleged that the petitioner 'used public interest litigation as a tool for raising unfounded and unverified allegations against the Administration and the present Administrator in charge.' It was accordingly asserted that the petitioner merely aims for publicity, thereby implying that the writ petition was an abuse of the process of the court. 

    The Petitioner had claimed that decisions taken after Praful Khoda Patel assumed office of Administrator have largely affected the interest of people.

    The Respondent on the other hand pointed out that the decision to omit meat and chicken was taken in the meeting of the UT Level Steering Cum Monitoring Committee held on 27th January 2021, in which the Administrator was not a participant. Therefore, no suggestion or direction was given to the committee by the Administrator in this regard which makes the allegation raised by the petitioner baseless and malicious. 

    Coming to the merits of the matter, the Administration argued that the Mid-Day Meal Rules r/w section 39(2)(b) of the National Food Security Act only prescribed levels of calories and proteins to be provided to children. There was no stipulation whatsoever that meat and chicken should be necessarily provided in the Mid-Day Meal. The respective State/ UT governments were asserted to be free to decide the menu in any appropriate manner satisfying the nutritional requirements. The statement also pointed out that many other states like Goa, West Bengal, Puducherry, and Andaman and Nicobar followed a vegetarian menu.

    In addition, it was submitted that the content of fish and egg was increased to substitute chicken and that this can provide a balanced nutrition to the children. 'Fish and eggs are the ideal non-vegetarian food source for growing kids as it is a rich source of protein, Vitamin-A, Omega 3, amino acid and helps in growth and development of children's brain,' the statement read. Moreover, although meat was provided in the earlier menu, it had to be substituted frequently due to non-availability. This was because in Lakshadweep, fresh fish was more easily available on a daily basis for consumption in comparison to meat.

    Another aspect in the counter affidavit was that in Lakshadweep, meat and chicken are normally part of the regular menu in almost all families, while consumption of fruits and dry fruits was very less among the islanders. Therefore, the omitting of meat and chicken from the menu of mid-day meals schemes and inclusion of fruits and dry fruits was perfectly in tune with the objective of the mid-day meal scheme, the Administration contended.

    It was submitted that nutrition needs of the children can easily be satisfied with the altered menu. Further, the Administration emphasised that the school Mid-Day Meal was meant to be an addition to, and not a substitute for, meals which parents should provide to the children at home. It was also highlighted that the Administration was providing mid-day meals from pre-primary till Grade XII although the Central Government guidelines only made mandatory till Grade VIII.

    The petition had contended that the physician present in the Steering cum Monitoring Committee meeting had suggested inclusion of non-vegetarian items in the mid-day meals and that her suggestions were not considered. The Administration claims that the petitioner omitted to mention that the physician had also suggested dry fruits, and that this opinion was taken seriously, pursuant to which dry fruits were added to the menu for the first time.

    "Providing nutritious food to the children is government's concern and the same is not compromised anywhere as alleged by the petitioner. There is no uniform structure for the MDM scheme menu, only thing is that; sufficient nutrition should be provided." On these grounds, it was submitted that the decision to make slight changes in the menu was taken after considering all relevant circumstances and without compromising the nutritional requirements.

    Other Arguments in the Counter Affidavit

    • Dairy Farms

    The petition had also stated that the islanders were engaged in animal husbandry activities. The Administration refuted this statement and clarified that due to the geographical isolation of the islands and scarcity of green fodder, animal husbandry activities are not common and popular in the islands. The Administration also denied the allegation that it had decided to stop the functioning of dairy farms to jeopardize the progress of animal husbandry activities.

    "The assertion of the petitioner that the farms conducted by the department are for making the islanders self-depended and the same is not a profit-making activity is only his opinion which cannot be thrust upon the Administration through the tool of PIL. It is not for the petitioner to assume and assert like that regarding the objectives and requirements of the functioning of the farm."

    A review meeting held on 20th April 2021 revealed that geographical conditions impaired animal husbandry activities and limited production of milk. Hence, it was decided to stop the functioning of the dairy farms and the Secretary of Animal Husbandry directed the Director to take steps to close down the dairy farms and to conduct an auction for the sale of animals.

    The report submitted by the Director also revealed figures which clearly showed that while the Administration suffered a loss of more than 90 lakhs per year to sustain dairy farms., they cater to the need of only 300 to 400 people among more than 20,000 population of the two islands, that too in a limited manner. 

    It was submitted that the decision to close down the farms was therefore taken after a thorough analysis of the functioning of the farms and the heavy loss sustained to the public exchequer. It was a policy decision taken for valid reasons, and they alleged that nobody has any right to compel the government to engage in a commercial activity resulting in huge loss to the exchequer.

    The central schemes mentioned by the petitioner can be implemented only if the same is viable and suitable in the island conditions. As stated above, because of the peculiar geographical and climatic conditions of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, the promotion of animal husbandry activities cannot be made on large scale like in the other parts of the country. 

    "The decision to close down the farms has no relation to the proposed Animal Preservation Regulation. The petitioner is not justified in alleging that the decision to stop the functioning of dairy farms which were catering to the requirements of only a minuscule section of the population that too in a limited manner is an interference with the food habits of the people of the islands. These are only wild allegations."

    • Disengagement of casual workers

    The petitioner had alleged that some employees were disengaged by the Administration. However, all those disengaged were causal employees or contract employees having no right to continue in service permanently. Disengagement of casual cooks in schools was due to non-functioning of schools due to the Covid pandemic. Huge amounts were being paid to them with no work, according to the Administration,

    Similarly, casual employees working in the Tourism Promotion Society had to be disengaged because tourism activities came to a halt due to the pandemic. Disengagement of excess casual employees in various establishments is a step to prevent loss to the public exchequer. "No government can afford to keep casual employees engaged and paid without any work," the counter read.


    A PIL was filed before the Court last month challenging the removal of non-vegetarian items from the food menu of school children. The petition sought to quash the controversial orders passed by the administration under the new administrator Praful Khoda Patel contending that they were passed in arbitrary and blatant violation of principles of natural justice. It was alleged in the petition that these orders were thereby illegal and unsustainable in law.

    Advocate Peeyus A. Kottam had appeared for the petitioner arguing that inhabitants of Lakshadweep engaged mostly in Government activities to eke out their livelihood. The Administrator's direction to immediately close down all the dairy farms run by the Department of Animal Husbandry and holding auctions for this regard was contended to bring grave consequences to the people on the islands.

    Case Title: Ajmal Ahamed R. v Union of India & Ors.

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