Meal workers return to work but protest on
Midday meal workers returned to work on Monday after 10 days, following Dispur’s decision to put on hold preparation and delivery of cooked food by the recently engaged NGOs.
However, the workers, officially known as volunteers, said they would continue their protest till the government restores their job permanently.
The All Assam Primary and Upper Primary Midday Meal Cook and Helper Association said it would stage a sit-in in front of state education minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya’s house on Tuesday morning in support of their demands.
Asked about their feelings on returning to work, two cooks of a school in Lakhimpur district turned emotional and said the morning fire, its rolling smoke and the frequent gaze of hungry children towards the kitchen had all become a part of their lives over the past 15 years. They said the schools had became second home to them.
“For the last 10 days, I have missed the work, schoolchildren, their smiles after eating warm food and the noise. I don’t not want to lose it all again. I want my job back permanently, at least for the sake of the students,” one of them said.
The task of cooking and distributing midday meals for primary schools was handed over to 15 NGOs from outside the state. They started their services from November 1, replacing 117,000 meal volunteers who have been working since 2005. The state government’s decision to engage NGOs drew criticism from various quarters and triggered protests by meal workers.
The protests intensified over alleged delay in supplying meals to schools in many parts of the state and alleged cases of food poisoning in Tinsukia and Lakhimpur districts of Upper Assam after allegedly consuming food prepared by the NGOs.
Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal ordered a probe into the anomalies on Saturday. On Sunday, Axom Sarba Siksha Abhiyan Mission director Samsher Singh directed the deputy commissioners of 17 districts to revert to the arrangement of food being prepared and delivered by midday meal volunteers.
Though meal workers resumed their work on Monday, they pressed the government to return to the old system of midday meals being cooked in schools and added that they were not convinced with any temporary arrangement.
All Assam Primary and Upper Primary Midday Meal Cook and Helper Association adviser Trishna Nath said the association would stage protests in front of Raj Bhavan and in Delhi.
“We will apprise our demands to governor Jagdish Mukhi and Prime Minster Narendra Modi through protests if they are not convinced with the prayers and tears of meal workers,” she said.
Extending solidarity to the meal workers’ protest, the Lakhimpur district committee of Asomiya Yuva Mancha staged a protest at Malpani Chariali on Monday, demanding the state education minister’s resignation.