Meal workers warn of hunger strike
Midday meal workers on Wednesday warned of a hunger strike after talks with the Assam government on their demands remained inconclusive.
The meeting was held between 15 delegates of the All Assam Primary and Upper Primary Midday Meal Cook and Helpers Association, led by adviser Trishna Nath and president Sabita Boro, and commissioner and secretary (C+S), department of elementary education, Assam, Preetom Saikia, at Janata Bhawan.
Alleging government apathy, the delegates said the meal workers would stage the hunger strike in front of Janata Bhawan on or before November 20 to push for their demands. The workers are demanding immediate removal of the NGOs engaged for preparing and distributing midday meals to primary schools of the state, permanent jobs and hike in remuneration to Rs 9,600 per month from Rs 1,000 at present.
The association’s executive members alleged after the meeting that elementary education joint secretary Rita Gogoi, who had received the their memorandum on Tuesday while they were protesting in front of education minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya’s house at Bora Service here, had assured them of arranging a meeting with the minister on Wednesday.
“The joint secretary gave us a written assurance on Tuesday. But today, after meeting with the commissioner and secretary, elementary education, we realised that it was a betrayal,” Nath said.
The Telegraph, which accessed a copy of the written assurance, found no mention of a meeting with the education minister. The lines written on the copy of the memorandum received by the joint secretary, reads, “As per verbal orders of C+S, a meeting will be held with C+S with 10 delegates of this organization at 11 am on 13th November at C Block at the office of the C+S”.
Terming the meeting unfruitful, the executive members said they had nothing to discuss with the commissioner. They said they wanted to discuss and resolve their demands with the education minister but since he is “no longer interested”, they have decided to intensify their protest.
The delegates also said that the meeting with the commissioner was casual.
“We did not find it to be a meeting. There were other visitors and phone calls frequently disrupted our discussion. We felt uncomfortable and were disheartened,” one of the delegates said.
“We are ready to go beyond hunger strike to achieve our demands. However, we have strictly cautioned our colleagues not to take the law in their hands while carrying forward the movement,” the delegate said.
Saikia told The Telegraph that removal of the NGOs, a key demand of the meal workers, would depend on the inquiry report and recommendations of the principal secretary (food, civil supplies & consumer affairs) Biswaranjan Samal.
Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal had on November 9 ordered a probe into the alleged anomalies in the midday meal services of NGOs, provided under centralised kitchen system, and directed Samal to submit the report within a month.
Saikia said, “We are preparing minutes of the meeting with the delegates of the All Assam Primary and Upper Primary Midday Meal Cook and Helpers Association for recommendation to the higher authority. It will take a month or two.”
Saikia said the jobs and remuneration of midday meal cooks and helpers were secure.
“The engagement of the NGOs will not affect their jobs. They will continue to serve as volunteers and receive their salaries directly,” he added.
Saikia said a hike in remuneration depended on the government’s policy. “We will definitely recommend revision of their salaries. However, the final decision lies with the government,” he added.