Assam: Midday Meal Workers Return to Work After 10 Days, But Continue Protest
Image Courtesy: Telegraph India
A day after protesting midday meal workers in Assam returned to work on November 11, they are staging a sit-in protest in front of Education Minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya’s house today. The workers, which include midday meal cooks and helpers in primary schools, have been protesting against the government’s decision to hand over the cooking and supplying of meals to NGOs, for the past 10 days.
The workers had resumed their responsibilities following the Sarbananda Sonowal-led government’s decision to put on hold the newly engaged NGOs, as reported by The Telegraph. However, the workers have resolved to continue their protest under the banner of All Assam Primary and Upper Primary Midday Meal Cook and Helper Association (AAPUPMMCHA) until their jobs are permanently restored.
As per reports, the state government handed over the task of cooking and distributing midday meals for primary schools to 15 NGOs from outside the state starting November 1, 2019. The decision drew flak from over 1,17,000 meal workers across the state, who had been employed in the job since 2005, and began protesting demanding their reinstatement. Following this, delays in midday meal distribution and cases of alleged food poisoning led to the questions being raised over the quality of food being served by the NGOs and further intensification of the protests.
On Saturday, hundreds of protesting workers blocked national highways at Kaliabor in Nagaon district, Golaghat and Tinsukia, demanding a probe into the alleged anomalies in the midday meal scheme being handled by the NGOs. Several organisations like Students’ Federation of India, Democratic Youth Federation of India, Assam State Krishak Sabha, All India Democratic Women’s Association, Citu, Joint Council of Trade Unions and Guwahati Mahanagar Unnayan Samiti also extended their support to the protesting workers and submitted a memorandum to the chief minister through additional deputy commissioner of police Gunendra Deka, demanding immediate suspension of the NGOs.
Following the protest, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal ordered a probe into the allegations of delays and questions over the quality of midday meal distribution under the NGOs. Sonowal also asked the protesting workers to resumed their tasks during the investigation period, as reported by The Telegraph. As a result, Axom Sarba Siksha Abhiyan Mission director Samsher Singh directed the deputy commissioners of 17 districts to revert to the arrangement of food being prepared and delivered by midday meal volunteers.
However, the members of the midday meal cooks and helpers’ association who were unsatisfied with the government’s temporary solution, blocked the national highways at Diphu, Jorhat, Golaghat, Majuli, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Udalguri, Titabor and Bongaigaon on Sunday for three hours from 8 AM. The workers later submitted a memorandum addressed to the CM, to the respective district magistrates, demanding their permanent reinstatement.
“We will apprise our demands to governor Jagdish Mukhi and Prime Minster Narendra Modi through protests if they are not convinced with the prayers and tears of meal workers,” the association’s adviser Trishna Nath was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.
This is not the first time that midday meal workers in Assam have been forced to hit the streets. Earlier on October 1, the midday meal cooks under the All Assam Midday Meal Karmachari Union had protested in front of the office of Deputy Commissioner stating that involvement of NGOs would deprive them of the meagre monthly remuneration that they are receiving now and also deprive the children of good quality cooked food.
The workers had also demanded that their wages be hiked by the state government. It should be noted that a midday meal cook receives a mere Rs 1,000 per month as salary.
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