UP: Mid-day Meal Workers Not Paid Honorarium For 5 Months, Forced to Borrow for Daily Needs
Lucknow: For 56-year-old Godawari, supporting her four-member family with a paltry honorarium of Rs 1,500 a month she gets for cooking food at a government primary school in Prayagraj, is a daily struggle.
“I have two daughters and a son. All of them are studying in government schools. Neither can I provide necessary study materials nor proper food to them,” Godawari, who works at a school in Jhusi of Prayagraj district, said.
Godawari is one among the 3.25 lakh women cook-cum-helpers in the state engaged under PM Poshan, which was known as the Midday Meal Scheme till recently. Under the scheme, hot cooked meals are provided to students in government and government-aided schools on days the schools are open. The MDM scheme covers over 1.15 lakh primary schools and 55,083 upper primary schools, including government-run, government-aided institutions and madarsas in Uttar Pradesh. Over 1.86 crore students, including 1.27 crore of primary and over 58.44 lakh of upper primary schools, are getting its benefit.
Midday meal workers in the state, who earn Rs 1,500 per month, say they have not been paid their meagre wages for the past five months. 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, it has not yielded any result.
"We were last paid in March, that too after holding multiple protests. Without money we have forgotten to celebrate our festivals in the past three years. The expenses of the house are met either by borrowing money or by farming," Vidhya, a midday meal worker in Azamgarh told NewsClick.
Of the 3.25 lakh cook-cum-helpers, 90% are women, mostly single women and widows who have been solely dependent on their monthly honorarium.
Laxmi, another worker, pointed out that the government had neither paid midday meal workers for the past few months nor provided any lockdown relief compensation.
Midday meal workers who NewsClick spoke to demanded they be recognised as “full time labourers” so that they are eligible for minimum wage. “We should also be provided service security and get health and pension benefits,” they said. They also demanded that the government provide them with ration for at least six months.
Under the scheme, the Centre provides for the payment of Rs 1,000 a month to cook-cum-helpers for 10 months in a year, with the states providing the additional amount. For instance, Uttar Pradesh provides Rs 1,500 to Godawari, Laxmi and their co-workers. And that too they have not been getting paid on time since two-three years.
It must be noted that Yogi Adityanath government had promised to increase Rs 500 during the Assembly election but he has not delivered the promise even four months after the results were announced.
"The Rs 1,000 per month honorarium is less than what the Anganwadi workers and helpers get from the Centre. The government should increase the monthly honorarium and should pay on time. In Uttar Pradesh the cook should be paid Rs 2,000 per month after Yogi government had promised to increased Rs 500 but they were not even being paid their previous honorarium," Veena Gupta, secretary, AIFAWH, who led the protests in Lucknow told NewsClick, adding that the government had also promised to give Rs 400 for uniforms but that too was not given to any cook in the state.
"The midday meal cooks are not recognised as workers but are treated as volunteers and are given a meagre amount as honorarium. The minimum wages are not extended to them. No social security or pension schemes are extended to them," she said.
Sanjeev Tiwari, the provincial joint secretary of the Primary School Cooks Welfare Association in Sitapur said, the midday meal cooks have not received the honorarium for the last one year in various government aided schools in the district. He claimed that many midday workers were sole breadwinners in their families and were on the “verge of starvation”.
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