Midday meal services in primary schools several districts were affected owing to belligerent protests by meal workers across the state. Even Dispur stepped up efforts to check the protests from escalating further.
The All Assam Primary and Upper Primary Mid-day Meal Cook and Helper Association has been carrying out a series of agitations from October 21, demanding immediate removal of the NGOs assigned to distribute midday meal services at primary schools, regularisation of their jobs and increased remuneration.
In Tinsukia, the agitators interrupted the meal distribution process by intercepting few vehicles of Ghanshyam Sewa Samiti, an NGO, vandalised the vehicle and emptied the containers of cooked meal on the street.
In Udalguri, the agitators called a 12-hour bandh in the district and attempted to disrupt the distribution of food. Udalguri superintendent of police Longnit Teron said at least 273 agitating meal workers were arrested throughout the day but later released on PR bond.
Paras Agro Society president Ankush Jain, in charge of the centralised kitchen in Udalguri and Lakhimpur districts, said agitators pelted stones at five vehicles in Udalguri. “However, we delivered a major share of the cooked meal in the district,” he added.
In Lakhimpur where the effigy of the education minister Sidhhartha Bhattacharya was burnt, some vehicles of the Paras Agro Society, one of the 14 NGOs engaged by the government, were stopped.
In Dergaon, the agitators burnt tyres on the streets to disrupt the meal distribution process. Cooked meals, prepared by the Aanya Social Service Organisations at Mangaldoi, were returned by students as it was allegedly unfit for consumption. In several parts of the state workers did not cook meals on Monday. Protests were also staged at Lanka, Silchar, Sonari, Hojai and Doomdooma.
With the protest escalating, Bhattacharya held a meeting with one of the meal workers’ factions in presence of reporters to restore normalcy. However, the other factions alleged that the government was trying to divide them. A faction lodged a police case against Purna Kanta Bordoloi, chief of one of the groups.
Mission director of Sarba Siksha Abhiyan, Assam, Samsher Singh said the government has conveyed to the association in presence of the media that there is no threat to the services of the midday meal workers.
“The midday meal workers will continue to work as volunteers and receive their monthly remuneration of Rs 1,000 directly in their bank accounts,” Singh said, adding that delivery in 11 of the 17 districts where the centralised kitchen policy has been implemented on an experimental basis, were not disrupted.
Singh added that NGOs engaged in preparing and delivering food were told to stick to the terms and conditions of the contract and that food delivered will be checked by both the district administration and the school staff to ensure quality.
“The protests turned aggressive in some places but we have tried to resolve the issue. Everything will be normal soon,” he added.