UP: Colourless Holi for Mid-Day Meal Cooks, Not Paid Wages For 8 Months
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Lucknow: Cook-cum-helpers engaged under the mid-day meal scheme, now known as Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN), have not been paid salaries for the past eight months in Uttar Pradesh's Bahraich district. These staff, who are responsible for implementing the scheme, are posted in various places of the district.
Scores of rasoiyas or cooks from across Bahraich, under the banner of Prathmik Vidyalaya Rasoiya Welfare Association, took out a march from the collectorate to the District Magistrate’s office, threatening to boycott work if they are not paid before Holi.
"We have not received salaries since June 2022 till February 2023. We will have to run the house. We need to pay for groceries, our children's education, as well as medicines for old parents. We request the state government to pay our dues or else there will be a lot of difficulties ahead," Meena Yadab, district president of the union, told NewsClick.
Rat Rani, Sita, Maya, Gyanmati, Geeta, Bhanmati and Ramkali among others, who were the part of the protest, alleged they had been demanding their salaries for months, but no one paid any heed to their genuine grievances.
"We are suffering because of non-payment of salary which is our only source of income. Even though we approached the district authorities, nothing concrete has been done to resolve our problem," they said.
This situation is not limited to Bahraich district. Cooks across the state have not been paid their monthly honorarium for the five-six months.
There were reports of similar protests in Baghpat, Bareilly and Meerut over non-payment of honorarium on Sunday.
Renu Sharma, president of Uttar Pradesh Rasoiya Karmchari Sangh, speaking to NewsClick said: "Last year, in April, Basic Education Minister Sandeep Singh stated before media that the state government had decided to increase the honorarium of cooks of the mid-day meal scheme from the existing Rs 1,500 per to Rs 2,000 per month. Besides, male cooks would be provided a pair of trousers and shirt while female cooks would get sarees but the promise has not been fulfilled till now.”
Sharma claimed that they were literally being forced to beg in front of shopkeepers to get food items on credit. "It seems that lakhs of cooks who serve food to the children will starve this Holi. We would have to celebrate Holi under the financial crisis as we might not be getting our pending dues,” she added.
There are 3,77,520 mid-day meal cooks engaged in more than 144 lakh primary and upper primary schools across the state. 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.
Mid-day meal workers in the state, who earn Rs 2,000 per month, say getting salaries four-five months late has become common in the state. In the absence of money, they said they hardly celebrate any festivals. "Poor people like us don't have any festivals. It is Holi in two days. We will either borrow money from a neighbour or money lender to buy necessary things for the festival. Our children do not understand our compulsion," a cook in Basti, not paid since August last year, told NewsClick.
Though various organisations, including Centre of Indian Trade Unions and All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) have repeatedly written to the state government, requesting release of wages on time, it has not yielded any result.
When asked for the reason behind the continuous delay, Veena Gupta, secretary, AIFAWH, told NewsClick: "This has been happening for many years. Since the scheme is subsumed under PM POSHAN, the state government has been blaming the Central government for the delay in payments and sanctioning of money."
The union leaders said there was a lack of unions in the state, leading to delay in salaries.
"Until and unless the workers raise their voices and hold protests, no funds are released for months," Gupta added.
In 2021, the mid-day meal scheme was renamed and subsumed within the PM POSHAN. With the poor quality of food and workers unpaid for months, the scheme has failed in its promise of “improving the nutritional status of school-age children nationwide” in the state, say activists.
NewsClick carried the protest of mid-day meal cooks last year in December as a part of the nationwide protests under the banner of the Midday Federation of India over salary delay. The protest demands to increase salary 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 raised but nothing fulfilled so far.
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