Mid-Day Meal Volunteers of Assam Protest Against Outsourcing Kitchens To NGOs
Around 1,20,000 mid-day meal volunteers are on the brink of losing their jobs after the Centre’s decision of centralising the kitchens and outsourcing cooking and distribution to Non-Profit Organisations in 17 districts of Assam. The recent central government guidelines passed in October instigated Assam state to rope in non-government players to handover cooking and distribution.
The government approved the decision on November 1 which led the volunteers to go on a protest in the final attempt to save their jobs. They returned to their work after 10 days on November 12 following Dispur’s decision to put operations by NGOs on hold, but they will continue to protest. The protesters took to streets on November 19 stating post government’s approval, 15 NGOs are preparing to take over the task next month.
Speaking to The Telegraph, two volunteers from a school in Lakhimpur district said that school has become a second home. “For the last 10 days, I have missed the work, schoolchildren, their smiles after eating warm food and the noise. I don’t want to lose it all again. I want my job back permanently, at least for the sake of the students,” one of them added.
The left-leaning trade unions in the state took the strike to the streets. They put forward their concern to the government saying that they will have to face a cut in their salaries and eventually lose their jobs when the Non-Profit Organisations take over. The concern among the workers has been aggravated by the past experience in 2010 where Akshay Patra, an NGO was roped in to serve urban areas of Kamrup, cut down the honorarium of cooks and helpers to Rs. 500.
Speaking to Scroll about centralised kitchens, anti-corruption activist Dharmakanta Gogoi said, “Around 500 children from different parts of the state had to be hospitalised after consuming the food.” Though the government’s ideology advocates that centralised kitchens decrease the contamination with better logistics and help to keep the focus of personnel in teaching, the experts are sceptical about the freshness of the food being compromised as the density of schools in rural areas are less.
Shamsher Singh, mission director of the Axom Sarba Siksha Abhiyan, nodal agency implementing mid-day meal spoke to Scroll and said, “The mid-day meal workers are getting the same amount of money for less work. Earlier they had to go to the market, arrange firewood, but now they have to only distribute.” He also added, since they are just volunteers and not government employees, a written commitment for their job was not possible.