People's Democracy

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


No. 49

December 05, 2010

Mid-Day Meal Workers Protest Privatisation Move, Demand Decent Wage


DOESN’T the government have any responsibility to see how we survive? I have to bring the firewood and fetch the water for cooking. I have to go many miles for that. Sometimes I have to bring the masala and oil too for cooking. The school headmaster and the teachers demand that I clean the school premises and classrooms even though it is not my job. We have to bear all kinds of abuses. When we ask for our monthly payment, we are always told the money has not reached. We get a paltry amount of Rs 300. Even that we get after 5 to 10 months. When the amount comes, the babu deducts his commission and the panch his own. For one year we have been hearing that our wage has been increased to Rs 1,000 per month. But it has not reached us to date. When the union took this up with the block and district authorities, they say there is no budget. We feed the children. We cook, serve and clean the premises. Why is the government not thinking about us? Why is it not seeing that no family can survive at Rs 1,000 a month? Now we have our union. We will fight under the CITU leadership and we are confident that we will achieve our rights.


These words from Lalvati from UP reflect the grievances of the 22 lakh mid-day meal workers engaged under the National Programme of Mid-Day Meal in Schools.

On November 25, about 4,300 mid-day meal workers from 11 states --- Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh --- gathered in Parliament Street of Delhi to resist the government’s move to privatise the scheme and protest their pathetic working conditions.


Formed in February 2009, the All India Coordination Committee of Mid-Day Meal Workers (CITU) has been demanding regularisation, minimum wages and social security for the mid-day meal workers. The committee has also been fighting the privatisation of the scheme and its hand-over to corporate houses and to NGOs in the name of public-private partnership (PPP). Different state committees held state level rallies in July-August this year on these demands.


This being the first all-India rally after the Coordination Committee’s formation, the participation was higher than expected. More than a thousand mid-day meal workers reached Delhi on November 24. The unexpected rain played havoc and the camp set up for their stay at Kotla Road was all drenched. Bearing the cold, patiently helping the organisers in managing the situation by putting up dry carpets and tarpaulins, the gathering mainly from Orissa and Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh dared the weather.   


On the 25th, those who had assembled the previous day took a colourful procession to the Parliament Street. A numbers of workers, a majority of them women, poured in from Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan on the day, forcing the administration to deploy the police in large numbers. Some 20 workers from Manipur and 40 from Assam could reach only by 6 pm that day since their train was late by 24 hours.


The presidium consisted of Uma Rani (AP), Bimla Thakuria (Assam), Sharbati (Haryana), Jagat Ram (HP), Mamata Mehanna (Orissa), Lalvati (UP), one from Rajasthan and Thankam (Kerala).


CITU president A K Padmanabhan inaugurated the march. In an inspiring speech in Hindi, he called upon the mid-day meal workers to fight against exploitation and carry on their struggle for their just demands including those of minimum wages and social security.


Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and leader of its parliamentary group, said that the government is fully involved in corruption and loot of public money and has no time to hear the just demands of the workers. He assured all support to the struggle of the mid-day meal workers. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat said that we must jointly fight the exploitation by the government in the name of ‘voluntary work.’ Basudeb Acharia, CPI(M) group’s leader in Lok Sabha, A Sampath, Ramachandra Dom and P K Biju also addressed the gathering. CITU general secretary Tapan Sen urged the workers to join en masse the March to Parliament by the central trade unions on February 23, 2011. CITU secretaries Dipankar Mukherjee and Hemalata as well treasurer Ranjana Nirula, Ashalata (AIDWA) and Vijender Sharma (National Forum in Defence of Education) expressed their solidarity with the mid-day meal workers’ struggle. Coordination Committee convenor A R Sindhu placed the charter of demands. CITU leaders from different states were also were present.


On behalf of the mid-day meal workers, Susheela (UP), Mamata Mehanna (Orissa), Jai Bhagvan (Haryana) Sudesh Kumari (HP), Hazarilal Sharma (Rajasthan), Saraswati Amma (Kerala) and Vijay Gabane (Maharashtra) addressed the gathering.


A delegation led by Tapan Sen and A R Sindhu, and including S Varalakshmi (Karnataka), Mamoni Dutta (Assam), Saroj (Haryana), Radha Sarnagi (Orissa) and Chabi Ram (HP), met the union minister for state Smt Purandeswari. But she passed the buck by saying the entire responsibility of implementing the scheme lay with the state governments. When the delegation asserted the demands and quoted the Planning Commission’s evaluation report and recommendations, she agreed to consider the demands. She also assured that the honorarium of Rs 1,000 would be paid without any deduction to the workers in all states. Regarding the burning issues of privatisation and retrenchment, there was no assurance except the repetition that the entire responsibility lay with the state governments.


The mid-day meal workers were patiently waiting for the return of the delegation, from 9 am in till 3.30 pm. A R Sindhu explained to the gathering the meeting with the minister. The gathering then took the decision to observe March 24, 2011 as Protest Day against the callous attitude of the central government and various state governments. State level rallies will be held in front of the state assemblies. It was also decided to join in large numbers in the March to Parliament by the central trade unions on February 23, 2011.


The first all-India protest action by the mid-day meal workers has created confidence among them and the rally of one of the most downtrodden sections of the society concluded with the pledge to strengthen the union and intensify the struggle.