Patna: The stubborn attitude of the Bihar government, regarding the ongoing indefinite strike by 2.48 lakh midday meal cooks since January 7 across the state, has deprived more than one crore school children, mostly from poor families, of nutritious meals. It has resulted in the direct impact on the attendance in the government-run schools. According to the government data, there are 71,000 primary and middle schools in Bihar, which are serving midday meals to 1.20 crore children.
“Yes, midday meal is no longer being provided to the children in our schools, as cooks are on an indefinite strike. Less than 50 per cent children are coming to school now because midday meals used to be a big attraction for them,” said Saroj Kumar Singh, a teacher from a school in Naubatpur block.
Another teacher, Dinesh Kumar from a school in Vaishali district, too, admitted that the ongoing strike by the midday meal cooks has badly hit the children in the schools. “The state government should not be adamant, and should listen to the striking cooks as soon as possible,” he opined.
Instead, the government resorted to issuing an ultimatum to the striking cooks last week.
In a circular issued to all the district education officers, Binod Kumar Singh, special secretary, Department of Education, and director of Midday Meal Bihar, said that payment to the cooks should not be made for the period of strike, and if they fail to immediately join work, they should be removed, and alternative arrangement should be made.
This stance of the state government has angered the striking cooks who have threatened to intensify their protest. “Striking midday meal cooks have burnt this dictatorial instruction across the state on Friday. Striking midday meal cooks will stage a chakka jam in Bihar on February 4 to protest against government’s stubborn attitude towards them,” said CITU leader Vinod Kumar, president of Bihar Rajya Midday Meal Workers’ Union.
Ganesh Shankar Singh, state general secretary of CITU, Bihar, said that the state government is not only threatening and warning striking cooks, the government has initiated a move to hit them. “It has decided to hand over the responsibility of supplying midday meal to Jeevika Didis of Self Help Groups in one block each in Muzaffarpur and Jehanabad districts as a pilot project.” Jeevika Didis are part of SHGs under the Bihar government’s rural livelihoods project, initially funded by the World Bank.
Last month, braving bad weather, thousands of Bihar midday meal cooks – mostly women – staged a protest in Patna on Jan 23 and 24, demanding minimum wage and other benefits like social security and labour laws.
The striking cooks said that they have been fighting for their rights for a long time – for higher honorarium, government employee status, and minimum wage of Rs.18,000 per month till they are declared government employees. Last year too, the cooks had staged a protest in Patna and at other places in the state.