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regular-article-logo Friday, 31 May 2024

Central govt justifies poor pay of midday meal workers

Cook-cum-helpers hired under the scheme receive a monthly 'honorarium' of Rs 1,000 for 10 months a year

Our Special Correspondent New Delhi Published 19.07.22, 04:00 AM
Centre and the states share the expenditures under the midday meal scheme in the ratio of 60:40.

Centre and the states share the expenditures under the midday meal scheme in the ratio of 60:40. File photo

The country’s 25 lakh school midday meal workers who are paid far below the minimum wage are “honorary workers” doing voluntary social service, the Centre told Parliament on Monday, justifying the poor pay and saying it would be “continued”.

The cook-cum-helpers hired under the midday meal scheme receive a monthly “honorarium” of Rs 1,000 for 10 months a year to prepare and serve the meals at government and aided schools and do the cleaning up later. The daily minimum wage varies between Rs 200 and Rs 600 across the states.

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A.R. Sandhu, secretary of CPM labour arm Citu, said the rules mandate that the midday meal scheme hire widows and people living below the poverty line, that is the vulnerable and marginalised.

“It’s an irony that the government calls them honorary workers while it knows they are all helpless people,” Sindhu said.

Trinamul MP Nusrat Jahan Ruhi had asked whether the government was considering increasing the honorarium of workers hired under the midday meal scheme, renamed as the Prime Minister Poshan scheme last year.

In a written reply, junior education minister Annpurna Devi told the Lok Sabha that the “cook-cum-helpers (CCHs) … are honorary workers who have come forward for rendering social services”.

“In recognition of their services, the CCHs are paid Rs 1,000 per month as honorarium for 10 months in a year and this is being continued,” Devi added.

She added that the state governments and Union Territory administrations provided additional funds from their own resources to these workers.

The Centre and the states share the expenditures under the midday meal scheme in the ratio of 60:40. The Centre therefore pays Rs 600 out of the Rs 1,000 monthly honorarium.

Every government, including the UPA government, has used the term “honorary worker” for midday meal workers. The honorarium was last revised in 2009. At the 2013 Indian Labour Conference, the government had promised to increase the wage.

The then human resource development ministry had in March 2019 moved a proposal before the cabinet to revise the honorarium. It was not considered.

Of the 25 lakh cook-cum-helpers, 90 per cent are women, mostly single women and widows.

The midday meal is served to 10 crore children of Classes I to VIII in 11 lakh government and aided schools every day the school is open.

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