Mid-day meal cooks up-in-arms against privatisation
Mid-day meal (MDM) cooks in Kamrup (Metro) district as well as the state are protesting against the government’s decision to privatise the MDM scheme in schools by giving them to NGOs.
The Assam government had taken a decision to hand over the implementation of the MDM scheme in government-run schools to NGOs in 2010 and finally handed over its responsibility in 2013 to NGO Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF) for providing packaged food to the students which began in a phased manner.
The APF is an NGO headquartered in Bengaluru which works in the field of eliminating malnutrition by providing MDMs to students in government schools in several places across the country.
However, the decision met with a lot of sustained protests from mid-day meal cooks and helpers across the state. The MDM cooks in Kamrup (Metro) have now intensified their protests against handing over the running of MDMs to NGOs.
There are close to 5,000 cooks in Kamrup (M) and around 1.17 lakh MDM cooks in the state.
During the past few months, they had also staged a number of demonstrations in different places.
“Even though privatisation of MDMs is currently not happening everywhere in Assam, the education minister had said in the assembly that they will be roping in NGOs in the future for handling MDMs in schools. We are fighting against this approach of the government and their apathy towards the cooks,” said Tapan Sarma, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
According to officials, the APF has been running the MDM in a few schools of Kamrup (Metro) district.
Sarma added that the government has not been able to implement the scheme all over the district as well as the state owing to the widespread agitation which is being carried out by the cooks.
Additionally, authorities informed that the cooks in Jorhat had gheraoed the deputy commissioner’s office against the government’s proposed move. Ultimately, the DC held talks with MDM cooks and told them that they would not be handing over the scheme to NGOs in Jorhat.
Major demands of MDM cooks
The MDM cooks have also asked the government to fulfil their long-standing demands.
Some of their major demands include increase in the honorarium which is currently at Rs 1,000. They have also alleged that they do not receive their honorarium on time.
“In today’s times Rs 1,000 is too less to run a household. We have numerous expenses to take care of. How will we be able to survive on this meagre sum?” said Debjanani Newar, member of All Assam Midday Meal Workers' Union (AAMMWU).
She added that a majority of the cooks belong to poor households and struggle to manage their homes and work to fulfil their basic necessities and now the government wants to take it away from them too.
Sarma informed that some of their other demands include them being entitled to social security schemes including medical benefits.
“We have requested the government to provide them with the benefits of provident fund scheme,” he said.
They have also demanded to be recognised as casual workers of the state education department. At present they are working as voluntary workers under the department.
“Till now we have not been given the status of casual workers and are therefore not entitled to any of the benefits,” informed Newar adding that once they are recognised as casual workers of the state education department, they will then become entitled to receive minimum wages.
Members of the AAMMWU said that the government should not go ahead with the privatisation of MDMs in schools since there is a humanitarian ground involved here as well.
“The mid-day meal should be should be hygienic and fresh and cooking is usually done by the mothers of school children. The feeling of a mother towards her child cannot be replaced by a commercial establishment,” said a member of AAMMWU.
On the other hand, district elementary education officer of Kamrup (M), Buli Gogoi Bhuyan, informed G Plus that currently the Akshaya Patra Foundation is operating MDMs in 178 schools out of a total of 855 schools in Kamrup (Metro) district.
She added that currently the NGO is operating mid-day meals in areas including Jalukbari, Betkuchi and Chatribari.
Buli further informed that the NGO refused to take up mid-day meals in schools in other parts of the district since they cannot travel long distances with the food.