People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 48

November 28, 2010


Save the Mid Day Meal Scheme,

Save the Future of India

A R Sindhu


EVERY year, around 25 lakh children die in India due to malnutrition and diseases, as per government statistics. After 60 years of Independence, according to the World Bank report, our country has 42 per cent of the world’s underweight children. According to the studies by National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB), National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) and Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), 58.6 per cent of the children of the age group 6-9 years and 77.9 per cent of the children of the age group 10-13 are under weight. (Source:  Guidelines for Mid-day Meal Scheme 2006, the Government of India). If we add the mild under nutrition underweight also, this will be a shocking 94.1 per cent and 96.4 per cent respectively. A total of 30.1 per cent of all children of 10-13 age group are severely underweight. The school drop out rate is as high as 60 per cent. With such glaring statistics, our country, a supposedly ‘already emerged world power’ is moving ahead. Due to neo-liberal policies, the situation is getting worse and we are fast moving away from the Millennium Development Goals.


The National Programme of Mid-Day Meals in Schools, started in 1995, is one of the ‘flagship programmes’ of the Government of India to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – to reduce child malnourishment and reduce school drop out rates. It covers approximately 11.74 crore children (Primary Stage: 8.24 crore, Upper Primary Stage: 3.50 crore), studying in Classes I-VIII in government (including local body) and government-aided schools and the centers run under Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative & Innovating Education (AIE).  The programme was extended on October 1, 2007 to cover children of upper primary stage of education (Classes VI-VIII) in 3479 Educationally Backward Blocks (EBBs). From 2008-09, the scheme covers all areas across the country.


The scheme is recognised widely to be helping in curtailing school drop out rate, particularly among the poor children. The government’s own studies show that  MDMS also help to improve the performance level of the school going children and bring in more equity among children, reducing caste and other social biases.


Nearly 20 lakh workers, mostly women from the most backward social and economic background are cooking meals and feeding these children. In many states, as many as 40 per cent of them are widows. The appointment of socially backward sections was a move to break the caste and class barriers prevailing in the country and promote social equality. The Mid Day Meal Workers who are helping to shape the countries future, are not even recognised as workers. They are not paid minimum wages, even though they have to work for around 5- 6 hours in the preparation, actual cooking and distribution of food and cleaning the vessels and the premises etc. They do not get any social security benefits. Besides, they are paid a pittance, and  that too only for ten months in a year. They get neither compensation nor medical aid in case of accidents, which are not rare. In many places, there are no proper infrastructure facilities for cooking. Till recently, the Mid Day Meal workers, who are mostly from backward castes and classes, widows and deserted illiterate women were paid Rs 100 to Rs 600 per month. Even this money was never paid regularly. An evaluation conducted by the Programme Evaluation Organisation of the Planning Commission found that since the wages paid to the Mid day Meal workers are so low as 40-50 paise per child, there is a shortage of cooks in schools. The average number of cooks per school in the country is 0.40.


Working since 1995 all over India and since 1984 in many states, the Mid Day Meal Workers often face harassment and even retrenchment. Since no service rules apply to them, they are at the mercy of school headmasters or local Panchayat members.




In all these centrally sponsored social service schemes like ICDS or NRHM, and MDMS, (ICDS is a pre-liberalisation scheme while the other two are post-liberalisation schemes), the most crucial part of the implementation, the component and concept of labour, is totally missing. It is considered as ‘service’ or ‘voluntary work’, i.e., free labour. They are called ‘voluntary workers’ or ‘social activists’. In a country, where 77 per cent of the population is hungry, the government knows that they will get people to work for even Rs. 300 to Rs 500 per month.

The other aspect is the gender angle of this concept. The cooking, child care and health care -- all are women’s jobs, which is getting done for free at home! According to a calculation, in the recent SC judgement on house work, the house work done by women all over India amounts to 612.8 billion dollars per year! These schemes, therefore, are an extension of these social concepts used for exploitation.


There should be a very deliberate move to question these very neo-liberal concepts of exploitation in the name of ‘community participation’ and ‘empowerment of women’.




According to noted economist Jayati Ghosh, the anganwadi workers and helpers in the country are doing an unpaid work of Rs 2400 crore per year only for the extra work assigned to them.


If we calculate at the rate of minimum wages of skilled and semi-skilled labourers, from these three schemes, the amount of underpayment of half a crore women (20 lakh anganwadi workers and helpers, 22 lakh mid day meal workers and 8 lakh ASHAs) will amount to nearly Rs 30,420 crores! This is the biggest scam of government sponsored exploitation.




Making profit out of poverty

In the background of increasing poverty in India, it is of utmost importance to strengthen the Mid Day Meal (MDM) scheme and universalise it. But the UPA government, which is pursuing the neo-liberal policies that are causing the impoverishment in the country, instead of strengthening the MDM Scheme, is trying to privatise the scheme through the backdoor. The government is not ready to make proper allocation to ensure quality and quantity of Mid Day Meals. In the name of Public Private Participation (PPP) the Mid Day Meal Scheme is being handed over to the Multi National Companies like Anil Agarwal’s, ‘Vedanta’, in states like Orissa, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. They get the government support for the scheme and they get tax concessions since they run the scheme. Vedanta got an international award for ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ for running the scheme - with our money. Apart from that, these multinationals are utilising these schemes to create goodwill among the people to restrain their resistance and struggles against the efforts by these companies to appropriate the natural resources. In Lanjigarh district of Orissa, where ‘Vedanta’ tried to appropriate forest land for mining replacing the tribals, the company, by running Mid Day Meal Scheme and anganwadi centres, tried to create public opinion in favour of it. Utilising the public money, these companies are misusing the Scheme to protect their interests!


The scheme is also given to NGOs like ISKCON, Naandi Foundation etc. These ‘corporate’ NGOs who take money from the government to run the scheme, project themselves as the ones who feed the ‘poor children of India’ and collect money from corporates and individuals within the country and abroad for that! In many cases, the NGOs are run by relatives of ministers and political leaders. ISKCON has collected crores of rupees and now their assets have increased manifold since they entered in to this field. There is no system to check these frauds; instead, the governments are prompting this corruption.


In several states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana etc the cooking job is given to Self Help Groups. The Self Help Groups, consisting of the poorest of the poor women, are compelled to make the initial investment for purchasing vessels etc. The average remuneration received by a member of a Self Help Group employed in cooking the meals is as low as Rs 250 per month. Here in the name of ‘community participation’ and ‘empowerment of women’, government is getting free labour and these poor women fight with each other for a bigger share of the alms given by the government. 


Another danger to the Scheme is the centralised kitchen. Apart from endangering the livelihood of thousands of Mid Day Meal Workers, the centralised kitchens run by these corporates, NGOs and Self Help Groups sabotages the very purpose of the scheme, to provide freshly cooked locally available food to the poor malnourished children. According to experts, there is no nutritional value for the food prepared in centralised kitchens many hours before serving.


Retrenchment of workers


Since there is no uniform guidance for appointment from the central government, several state governments like Himachal Pradesh have changed their earlier rules which provided for employing two workers in each school and started retrenching hundreds of Mid Day Meal workers who have been working for around 6 years.


Passing the buck to the state governments


Like all other centrally sponsored schemes, the UPA government wants to hand over the responsibility to the states, without handing over the resources. Started as fully centrally sponsored schemes, for MDMS and ICDS, now the state’ share for total spending is 25 per cent and is projected to be 50 per cent within one or two years. The UPA government is not ready to have uniform guidelines for the working conditions of the Mid Day Meal workers. The minister even evaded the responsibility by putting the blame on the state governments. A resistance needs to be built to counter the attack on the federal character of the nation.


Attitude of the state governments

Many state governments are showing the same callous attitude towards the Scheme as well as the workers. In many states, even wages are not paid for months together and the increased wages are yet to be implemented. Kerala is the only state which had notified minimum wages for the Mid Day Meal Workers. The LDF government, apart from notifying Rs 150/- per day as minimum wage, declared a festival allowance of Rs 500 for them. The Kerala government has also decided to include the Mid Day Meal workers in the Health Insurance Scheme.




CITU has formed the All India Coordination Committee of Mid Day Meal Workers in February 2009 and since has been fighting for the rights of the Mid Day Meal Workers and to save the MDM Scheme. The coordination committee has unions in 13 states covering a membership of over one lakh. The repeated representations and struggles by the coordination committee, including state level demonstrations, dharnas, rallies etc have forced the government to declare an honorarium of Rs 1000 for the MDM workers in November 2009. But in many states there is no response from the government to the demands of social security including PF, ESI, and Pension etc.



The Mid Day Meal Workers all over the country are agitated towards the callous attitude of the UPA government towards their problems and the move to privatise the scheme. So, the All India Co ordination Committee of Mid Day Meal Workers (CITU) has decided to organise a March to Parliament on November 25, 2010 in which thousands of Mid Day Meal Workers from all over India are expected to participate in the March.


The main demands of these workers are:


1.     There should be no privatisation of Mid Day Meal Programme. Immediately stop handing over the preparation of food to NGOs like the ISKCON, Naandi and corporates like Vedanta


2.     There should be no retrenchment of Mid Day Meal workers


3.     Regularise the Mid Day Meal Scheme. Recognise the Mid Day Meal workers as school employees and they should be given appointment letters. Uniform service rules should be implemented for them all over the country.


4.     Till regularisation, pay minimum wages to the MDM workers for full 12 months in a year. Ensure the immediate payment of the monthly remuneration of Rs 1000 with arrears. Take action against the defaulters.


5.     Mid Day Meal workers should be appointed in all the schools. Till such time the bills to the SHGs should be paid regularly


6.     Social security benefits, including ESI, Group Insurance, PF and Pension to be provided to all the Mid Day Meal workers


7.     Safety allowance and washing allowance should be paid to all the Mid Day Meal workers


8.     135 days maternity leave with pay should be provided to the pregnant Mid Day Meal workers


9.     Proper fund should be allocated to ensure good quality food in proper quantity for the MDM Scheme. Proper infrastructure should be provided in all schools for cooking of food.


The Mid Day Meal Workers will continue to struggle to put pressure on the government to accept their just demands. The other toiling sections must also support the just struggle of the Mid Day Meal workers to save the Mid Day Meal Scheme to save the future of India.