Scores of NCP Student Wing activists are set to swoop on hundreds of government and government-aided private school headmasters, snatch their lunch boxes and distribute the contents among students, as part of their protest against the headmasters' refusal to offer mid-day meals to students.
Over 20,000 headmasters of government-aided private schools have, since Aug 16, refused to prepare mid-day meals for their students.
NCP Student Wing state president Nilesh Raut said the protest was a last-ditch attempt to draw the government's attention to the plight of students, who have either been going hungry or carrying food from home, as the headmasters have been refusing to make arrangements for cooking meals on school premises.
"We support the headmasters' demand. But it cannot be done at the expense of the poor students, for many of whom the main incentive to attend school is a free, nutritious, mid-day meal provided by the state government," Raut told IANS.
He warned that until the headmasters resume preparing the mid-day meals for the children, or provide a viable alternative, NCP activists will continue to snatch their tiffin boxes for distribution to hungry students.
The school headmasters said they had already served notice to the state government on the proposed agitation three weeks ago, but have received no response. "We endorse the scheme of providing mid-day meals to the students.
But it takes up most of our time on the campuses and we are neglecting academics," All Maharashtra Secondary School Headmasters' Association president V.G. Patil told IANS.
Defending the headmasters' agitation, he said that since the school staffers are overburdened with academics and extra-curricular activities, it was difficult to also handle the kitchen and ensure that proper mid-day meals were served to children.
"In view of the recent tragic incidents in Bihar, for the smallest lapses, criminal cases are lodged against the headmasters and other staffers who remain under constant stress," Patil said.
Patil said the headmasters have long been demanding that mid-day meals for students be arranged through NGOs or professionals, so school staff were freed for teaching activities.
According to Patil, there are around 35,000 government schools and another 35,000 government-aided private schools in the region, with an average of nearly 2,000 children in each.
On an average, around 15 million children are served freshly cooked mid-day meals during the daily lunch recess.
Patil claimed that since the quality of foodgrains supplied was very poor, at least one-third of the children anyway preferred to get their own lunch boxes from home.