People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXVII

No. 36

September 08, 2013

 

 

CALL OF THE NATIONAL CONVENTION

 

Save the Mid Day Meal Scheme

from Corporatisation'

 

SAVE the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) from privatisation was the one voice heard in the National Convention to Save MDM Scheme, whether it is from the illiterate mid day meal worker or from the renowned economist or child right expert. The convention was organised by the All India Coordination Committee of Mid Day Meal Workers (CITU) in the background of the move from many quarters for handing over the scheme to corporates or corporate NGOs, taking advantage of the fear among the beneficiaries after the recent tragedy in Bihar.

 

The convention, held on August 22, 2013 at BTR Bhawan, New Delhi was attended by educationists, intellectuals and child right activists, nutrition experts, representatives of organisations of students, teachers, women, agricultural workers, peasants and workers apart from mid day meal workers and their union representatives from Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Delhi, UP, Bihar and Rajasthan. Dr Veena Gupta, the UP state secretary of the mid day meal workers union presided over the convention.

 

Dr Vandana Prasad, renowned child right activist and expert and member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in her opening remarks said that the Mid Day Meal Scheme is a unique one in helping breaking the vicious circle of malnutrition in India by reducing the teenage malnutrition and hunger. But in the aftermath of the Bihar tragedy, the lobbies that had been trying to push for the ready-to-eat or packed food through the scheme had doubled their efforts. Even the food security bill has got provisions which may be detrimental to the scheme, she said. In many states the mid day meal scheme is not being properly implemented. It is important for the society to listen to the children. She called upon the mid day meal workers of the country to be prepared, even within all limitations of the scheme, to deliver the best possible quality food and also demand for better infrastructure.

 

Professor Jayati Ghosh said that the lobby which is trying to malign the mid day meal scheme and pushing for ready-to-eat food or centralised kitchen to replace the existing system include not only bureaucrats and politicians but also scientists. They are doing this with an intention of privatising it. She stressed the need to counter the arguments put forward by these lobbies. The argument that there is not enough money for improvement of the system is not correct. Even if the government provides three times more money to the scheme, it wont make much difference in the expenditure of the government and we must demand for more, she said. A recent study has shown that the freshly cooked food through the scheme has made a 15 per cent increase in the calorie consumption of the bottom 40 per cent of the population, she said. We must widen the movement to popularise the scheme so that the scheme can be strengthened. She offered her  help to gather support in the efforts to strengthen the scheme.

 

A R Sindhu, convenor AICCMDMW, placed the declaration. She explained the threat of corporatisation of the scheme and how the corporate houses and corporate NGOs are using the scheme to maximise profit. She narrated the working condition of the workers and how the government exploits them with a payment of mere one thousand rupees per month, that too only for ten months a year. The recommendation of the 45th ILC to recognise them as workers was opposed by the HRD ministry. She stressed the importance of the wider movement of the public to protect such schemes.

 

Wazir Singh, from School Teachers Federation of India (STFI) said that many teachers do not want the MDMS because it means extra work and they even prefer the ready-to-eat food. But the STFI realises the importance of the scheme and wants to strengthen it with improved infrastructure he said. The STFI had conducted a study of the scheme and had demanded that necessary staff for monitoring and accounting of the scheme must be appointed as in Tamilnadu, he said.

 

Narrating the ground level issues, he said that nowhere in Haryana children became sick consuming the meal prepared at schools by workers but there are many cases of children getting sick consuming food prepared by the NGOs in centralised kitchen. The meal provided by the scheme is the first food taken on a day, not only for the children but also for the teachers, particularly the lady teachers 99 per cent of who reach the schools without breakfast, he said. He demanded that provisions for breakfast also must be included in the scheme.

 

Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU, explained the CITUs efforts to mobilise the scheme workers which has resulted in the ILC recommendations. He stressed the necessity of community involvement in the movement.

Nurul Huda offered the support of AIKS and AIAWU in the movement against privatisation of such a crucial scheme. Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary of AIDWA, while extending the support stressed the importance of defending the scheme which is crucial at a time when malnutrition in the country is increasing. In the question of recognition of the work of the most downtrodden women, AIDWA stands along with the trade unions she said.

 

Basudev Acharia, CPI(M) MP said that the convention is very timely since even in the parliament, discussion is on among MPs on whether to close down the scheme. He narrated his experience as the chairman of a school council in the 80s. The conspiracy of the corporates to dismantle the scheme must be opposed he said. The working class movement must take further the demands put forward through the two-day nationwide strike. Amitava Guha from the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan gave the experience of micronutrient supply by the multinationals.

 

Mid Day meal workers from different states spoke on the problems they face. The experiences on the problems of exploitation of the women of the SHGs, problems of ISKCON run centres, corruption, lack of infrastructure, workplace accidents, non payment of wages etc came up.

 

The convention got the support of renowned educationist and former UGC chairman Professor Yashpal and famous nutrition expert Dr Arun Gupta, who could not attend the convention due to ill health. Both of them extended full support to the struggle against privatisation of the scheme and for strengthening it.

 

The convention adopted a declaration demanding of the UPA government

 

                    To ensure that the coverage of Mid Day Meal Scheme be extended to all children up to 12th Standard in the Food Security Act.

                    To ensure proper infrastructure including kitchen sheds, storage place and safe drinking water, cooking facilities etc should be provided in all schools. Adequate amount of good quality food materials be provided in the schools through the government mechanism in a transparent manner. Adequate staff must be appointed for the MDMS.

                    To stop privatisation of the mid day meal programme in any form. Immediately stop handing over the preparation of food to the ISKCON Akshaya Patra, Naandi Foundation and other NGOs, SHGs or corporates like Vedanta or to SHGs.

                    To provide freshly cooked locally available food to the children. No centralised kitchen should be allowed in the scheme

                    To immediately implement the recommendations of the 45th Indian Labour Conference, recognising mid day meal workers as workers, provide them minimum wages and pension and other social security benefits. The declared enhancement of five hundred rupees in the remuneration be paid forthwith.

 

It is resolved to hold similar state level conventions and collect signatures on a memorandum to the prime minister, which will be submitted to him in November 2013.

 

(INN)