UP: Midday Meal Workers Struggle to Make Ends Meet, Unpaid Since March
Image Courtesy: pxhere
Lucknow: Midday meal workers in Uttar Pradesh (UP), who earn Rs 2,000 per month, say they have not been paid their meagre wages for the last six months. Even though various organisations, including the Midday Federation of India, have repeatedly written to the State government requesting them to release their wages, it has not yielded any results. Teachers have taken the matter into their own hands and started paying them from their own pockets.
Over 3,77,520 cooks, engaged in preparing food under the mid-day meal scheme (Mid Day Meal Authority, Uttar Pradesh) in around 2.85 lakh state government-run primary schools are awaiting a monthly honorarium of Rs 2,000 for the last six months.
Veena Gupta, secretary of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) told NewsClick, "Cooks in Uttar Pradesh have not been paid since March. The last payment they received was Rs 1,500 per month. Later, the honorarium was increased by Rs 500. But so far, most of the cooks in the state have not received the revised payment. Teachers are somehow persuading them to continue with their services by shelling out money from their own pockets."
Laxmi, an old widow, and a cook at a primary school in the Basti district told NewsClick,
"I am a single parent and I have an unmarried daughter and an unemployed son to look after. For the last six months, I have not received any payment. I have decided to stop working in the school and find a maid's job."
Last year in December, the Uttar Pradesh government decided to increase the honorarium of part-time instructors and cooks posted in the state’s Basic Education Department. However, the government approved the proposal in May, almost five months later. The decision was taken in a Cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
"Rasoiya does not get paid for May and June due to the closure of school during summer vacation; June and July passed in waiting. When they stopped coming to school to cook the meal, we intervened and gave some amount from our own pocket. After a long wait, the government issued a grant for one month. Rs 1.30 crore grant has been received for
6,500 cooks posted in 2,482 schools of Bareilly, while the need is Rs 3.90 crore," Mukesh Singh Chauhan, district president of Prathamik Shikshak Sangh told NewsClick.
Of the 3.77 lakh cook-cum-helpers, 90% are women, mostly single women and widows who have been solely dependent on their monthly honorarium.
"For almost 68 students, I am the lone cook in my school. Whenever I ask the school principal, he says the grant has not been released by the government. I have a family of four who are dependent on my salary. The situation we have been going through only we can understand. I am sincerely looking for a job where I can be paid on time at least," Renu, a cook in Ballia, told NewsClick, adding that even domestic helpers and cooks get around Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000
salary or even more. The government must think about their meagre salaries and that too on time.
Hundreds of Midday meal workers and helpers took to the streets and staged sit-in protests at different district headquarters of Uttar Pradesh in December as a part of the nationwide protests under the banner of the Midday Federation of India.
They submitted a memorandum, demanding an increase in the honorarium of the workers from Rs 2,000 per month to Rs 15,000 per month, an increase in the retirement age of cooks and helpers from 60 years to 65 years and providing retirement benefits.
"For the past few years, teachers, and principals have been pooling funds from their pocket. Now, even they are helpless in contributing funds," Sanjeev Pandey, a school principal in Gorakhpur, told NewsClick.
NewsClick has reported earlier that government schools in Uttar Pradesh have reportedly not received any money for mid-day meals for the last few months, preventing some schools from serving food to children under the scheme. In a few schools, teachers and gram pradhan (village head) have been spending from their own pockets or buying rations on credit to feed the children. The Education Department has attributed the delay in payment to the non-release of funds by the Finance Department.
Meanwhile, the Federation is gearing up for another fresh protest in Lucknow next week where cooks from across the state will gather to raise their demands.
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