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Mid-day Meal Workers Protest in Kolkata Demanding pay Hike, Bonus and Social Security

Mid-day meal workers from Kolkata and distant districts came to the state capital to join the rally.
mid-day meal

Kolkata: Mid-day meal workers in West Bengal on Monday held a protest, placing a 13-point demand, including a minimum salary of Rs 21,000, various social benefits and leaves. The demonstration took place at Bikash Bhavan, Kolkata, on the call of the Paschimbanga Mid-day Meal Karmi Union (PBMDMKU).

The protesters demanded that, like other project workers, mid-day meal workers should also be given festive grants or bonuses. They also sought to be paid 12 months instead of 10 months and an equal status to the Group D staff at schools.

Dulali Panja, who came from East Medinipur to attend the rally in Kolkata, told the People's Reporter, "We have more responsibility than any government employee. But there is no social benefit or bonus for us. There are no financial benefits either. We have joined this gathering today to seek a remedy."

Shubra Sarkar, who hails from Raidighi in South 24 Parganas, told the People's Reporter correspondent that "the government has not increased any allowance in this scheme since 2013. Our days pass through a miserable situation. We demand an immediate increase in our allowance."

Reena Pradhan, from Ghatal in West Midnipur, said the government was apathetic to the issues faced by the mid-day meal workers. Pradhan said, "We only get an allowance of Rs 1,500 per month. It has become impossible to survive on this money. Our repeated appeals to the government did not help. The government does not care about us, and hence, our movement."

The leaders alleged at the protest meeting that the system of providing cooked meals to children in the schools does not fully reach the children. 

According to "equal work, equal salary," a minimum salary of Rs 21,000 should be paid to mid-day meal workers, they noted. All kinds of leave benefits, along with social benefits and identification cards, should be given to every cook, the leaders added.

This rally was held near Karunamayi International Bus Terminal in Kolkata. Mid-day meal workers also came from distant districts of the state to join the rally and voice their concerns. 

A delegation of workers handed over a memorandum from the meeting to the state's project director. Memorandums have also been given to the offices of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Education Minister Bratya Basu.

When the workers' representatives requested the Minister of Education for a date of discussion with an application form, the Minister's office did not accept it. It told the applicants that to discuss the mid-day meal with the Minister of Education, one has to go to Trinamool Bhavan, the headquarters of the ruling Trinamool Congress party.

Highlighting this incident angrily, Madhumita Banerjee asked the gathering, "Is the government's education department running from the Trinamool building?" 

Banerjee said that the central and state governments want to give up on the midday meal scheme through deception. The project workers should be given the right to benefits according to their status under the law, she underlined.

"Since 2013, allowance has not increased in this scheme. Twelve months of salary is given in all schemes, but only ten months of allowance is given in the mid-day meal scheme. The government is increasing the allowances of ministers and MLAs, spending huge amounts on club grants, while the Mid Day Meal scheme does not spend money on increasing the allowances of the workers," Banerjee added.

Speaking at the protest gathering, the national-level leader of the organisation, Krishna Roy Chatterjee, highlighted the struggle and demand of mid-day meal workers in states like Haryana, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. He said that all mid-day meal workers will join the continuous movement in West Bengal to realise their demands.

Sunil Nati said only a Rs 1500 allowance is given to mid-day meal project workers. Without increasing it, those who run this scheme are trying to give up the mid-day meal scheme by changing the name, which would attach it to the 100-day work scheme, and will provide packaged meals instead of cooked meals.

Nati alleged that rice was being stolen from the mid-day meal scheme in the state. "Mid-day meal fund money is being spent in other sectors in West Bengal. On the other hand, the Kerala government is encouraging parents to send students to school by including balanced meals in the mid-day meal scheme," he said.

Other speakers at the rally stressed on continuing the agitation and uniting mid-day meal workers in December next year to realise their demands.

Speaking on behalf of the Domestic Workers Association, Pritha Tah said that "the mid-day meal workers were beaten up on false pretexts by placing the responsibility of the negligence on the workers who supply the rice. Meanwhile, midday meal workers work hard to provide cooked meals to school students to help build tomorrow's workers in the country."

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