(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 28, 2010
Save the Mid Day Meal Scheme,
the Future of
A R Sindhu
EVERY year, around 25 lakh children die in
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.
since 1995 all over
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.
other aspect is the gender angle of this concept. The cooking, child
health care -- all are women’s jobs, which is getting done for free at
According to a calculation, in the recent SC judgement on house work,
work done by women all over
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.
GOVT DOES NOW
Making profit out of poverty
In the background of increasing poverty in
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
In several states like Andhra Pradesh,
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.
AICC OF MID DAY
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.
Mid Day Meal Workers all over the country are agitated towards the
attitude of the UPA government towards their problems and the move to
the scheme. So, the All India Co ordination Committee of Mid Day Meal
(CITU) has decided to organise a March to Parliament on November 25,
which thousands of Mid Day Meal Workers from all over
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.
Mid Day Meal Workers will continue to struggle to put pressure on the
government to accept their just demands. The other toiling sections
support the just struggle of the Mid Day Meal workers to save the Mid
Scheme to save the future of