The government on Friday pointed to the Right to Education Act to justify its decision to engage teachers to serve midday meals in schools even as the instructors continued to boycott the welfare programme.
Midday meal director R. Laxmanan said: “The Supreme Court has passed an order stating that the teachers should not be involved in non-academic work. But midday meal is not out of the ambit of education as it is a part of the Right to Education Act.”
The director added: “According to the Supreme Court, the Right to Education Act and an Act of disaster management, the services of teachers can be used in census, election and relief for natural disaster work. There is no question of teachers being deployed in other duties as being illegal.”
Primary school teachers, however, disagreed with him.
Bihar Rajya Prathamik Shikshak Sangh — the union of the primary school teachers — had given a boycott call on Thursday, demanding that the government appoints an agency to administrate the implementation of the free lunch scheme.
On Friday, the president of the union Brajnandan Sharma, said midday meal had not been served at 90 per cent of the schools.
“The midday meal was not served to 90 per cent schools. The boycott will continue unless the government makes an alternative arrangement,” he said.
The government, however, had different facts and figures to offer.
“Based on feedback from different parts of the state, we know that midday meal was not served at 20 per cent schools,” said midday meal director Laxmanan, adding that the education department officials would meet the teachers on Saturday to resolve the impasse.
There are 70,000 primary schools in the state where midday meal is served. Barely a week has passed since 23 children of Gandaman Primary School in Saran died after consuming a pesticide-infected midday meal.
In Patna, the students of government schools were not deprived of their lunch because local non-government organisations implement the scheme. At the government primary school at Anta Ghat, 70 students ate lunch provided by NGO Ekta Shakti Foundation.
On Thursday, the teachers had also found support from the Allahabad High Court, which had ruled (in a different case), that the duties of teachers involved taking classes, not overseeing cooking of meals.
While hearing a PIL filed by Meerut-based Uttar Pradesh Pradhanacharya Parishad, the Allahabad High Court directed the government of Uttar Pradesh to have a uniform policy regarding supervision of midday meals.
Laxmanan said on Friday that the court had not passed any order, it had only made an observation.
In 2004, the Supreme Court had given the instruction that teachers should not go on strike because they do not have the right to stop the midday meal given to the children.
Teachers, however, refused to agree with the official.
On Thursday, the president of their union, Sharma had said teachers earn a bad name because of the corruption of others involved in the midday meal scheme.
Around 3.5 lakh teachers — both regular and contract — are engaged to implement the scheme, right from purchasing grocery and vegetables to preparing and serving the meals.