Adivasi students under the banner of All Maharashtra Government Tribal Youth Hostel Association will march from Pune to Nashik over five days beginning July 13, to challenge the decision to scrap canteens in 490-odd tribal hostels across the state.

Around 2,000 students will undertake the 210 km-long padayatra to the headquarters of the Tribal Development Commissionerate in Nashik to protest the April 4 decision of the Devendra Fadnavis-led government to scrap canteens following increasing complaints of poor quality food being served, according to Bharat Talpade, a member of the tribal students’ association.

“Many more from Aurangabad, Dhule and Nandurbar will be joining us, taking our numbers to 10,000 by the time we reach Nashik,” said Mr. Talpade, adding that a significant number of female students would also be participating.

In the place of canteens, the government has decided to provide each student with Rs. 3,500 per month as ‘food allowance’ via the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system. The Association feels this poses a threat to their food concerns and is aimed at doing away with the education of tribal students.

“The entire process of issuing the government resolution (GR) has been done in a rushed and peremptory manner without consulting us. This move [‘food allowance’ through DBT] will eventually hamper the education of Adivasi students,” said Mr. Talpade.

Mr. Talpade pointed out that in most cities tribal hostels are located outside civic body limits. “Few decent hotels are sited near the hostels. The DBT system is forcing us to go foraging for food after classes, thus wasting valuable study time,” he said.

It is virtually impossible to secure a nutritious meal for Rs. 50 a day (the approximate per day allowance from the Rs. 3,500 food stipend), says Praveen Dhande, another student of the association.

Students argue that the sum of Rs. 3,500 per month is “woefully inadequate,” especially in cities like Pune, where cost of living is extremely high. “Things are especially harder for female students,” Mr. Dhande said.

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