Flavoured milk nearing expiry date distributed to children in ashram schools; adivasi orgs demand action
The expiry date of the milk is September 9.
Pune: After the flavoured milk packets distributed to the students of Government Ashram Schools under the Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) Office in Ghodegaon were found to be just a couple of days short of their expiry dates, locals and tribal organisations have demanded an immediate probe into the matter. In this shocking incident, local activists found that between 15 to 30 packets of the flavoured milk were distributed to the students at three Ashram Schools in the said area from September 4 onward following a government circular in this regard, when the expiry date of the milk is September 9. Tribal Development Minister KC Padvi told Indie Journal that instructions have been given to stop distribution of such packets, and a probe will be conducted in this regard wherever necessary.
As per the circular issued by the State Government on September 2, the stock of tetra packets of flavoured milk available with Parag Foods Limited and Warana Milk, was to be distributed amongst the students of Government Ashram Schools. The circular has maintained that the teachers and other coordinators must strictly check the expiry dates on the milk packets before distributing them amongst the children.
“As per the government order, such packets were distributed to 23 Ashram Schools. We know that the packets close to expiry have been distributed at three schools - Ghodegaon Government Ashram School, Terungan Ashram School and Rajpur Ashram School - under the Ghodegaon Tribal Development Project. But this is so distressing, considering that such a thing has been done jeopardising the health and safety of the children. Such flavoured milk packets are given to the children everyday when they go to school, as part of a balanced diet. We never checked the expiry dates before, and now we are worried,” said activist Nilesh Sable who is the President of Shivbhave Jeevseva Adivasi Vikas Sangh (Rajewadi-Ambegaon).
Sable discovered that the milk packets were so close to their expiry dates a couple of days ago, when he was offered one by a young boy. “Some kids were drinking, and they had several packets on them. They said they were given many boxes, and offered some to me. I began drinking, and without giving it much thought, I just happened to check the stamp, and I found out that the expiry date was September 9, 2020,” Sable said.
Shivbhave Jeevseva Adivasi Vikas Sangh, as well as Adivasi Vikas va Suraksha Association, have written letters to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray, State Tribal Development Minister KC Padvi and Governor of Maharashtra Bhagat Singh Koshyari demanding strict action against those involved in the distribution of this milk. “I was informed of the same this morning, and I have asked to stop the distribution of such packets. I have asked for more information in this regard so that we can prevent more such instances. I will look into the matter, and take action against those found guilty.” Padvi said when contacted in this regard.
“As per the dates on the tetra packs, the shelf life of the milk was between March 10, 2020, and September 9, 2020. Why was the government waiting to distribute the milk until its last week of usability? Why was it not distributed in the last six months," questioned tribal activist Ravindra Talape of the Adivasi Vikas V Suraksha Association.
However, ITDP Ghodegaon Project Officer RB Pandhure has stated that the milk packets were distributed as per government orders, and instructions were given to distribute those before their expiry date. “The government order came in on September 2. We began distributing the milk packets from September 4. The expiry date on some packets was September 9, while it was September 10 on some packets. We had instructed the company coordinators and the school principals who were distributing the milk to guide parents on using the packets within the expiry date. We expected that the whole family would consume the milk, and so it would be over before it gets expired,” Pandhure told Indie Journal.
However, Sable said that the families were given no instructions as to when they must finish the milk. “Nobody told the people here that the milk was due for expiry. Each student was given around 15 packets of milk in our area, and 25 in some other areas. The distribution was going on till September 7, that is just two days prior to the expiry date. How were they going to finish so much milk in two days?” Sable questioned.
State Tribal Commissioner Dr Kiran Kulkarni told Indie Journal that the department will conduct a probe if they receive a formal complaint in this regard.
“These companies were given the tender to provide flavoured milk to Ashram Schools when the schools were still open, and they are always expected to have at least 15 days of stock ready with them at any given point while they are on contract with us. However, when the schools suddenly shut down in March due to the Coronavirus outbreak, these companies were left with 15-days worth of stock, which could not even be sold in the market. So they sent in applications asking us to distribute these packets, and so the State Government made the decision to start distributing these packages,” Kulkarni explained.
He further said, “We had given the companies as well as the schools strict instructions not to distribute packets that had expired. However, it has been brought to our notice that such packets were distributed in the Ghodegaon area. We have asked people to report it to us, and we then will conduct an investigation. If we find that any of the organisations are involved in the distribution of expired milk packets, we will take actions against them.”