Midday Meal, What’s behind the current hiccups in the midday meal scheme in the State following some sort of ‘rebellion’ by cooks and helpers? Cooks and helpers of the scheme have been taking to the streets since November 1, 2019 on their ‘job security’ and ‘quality of food’ being provided to school children. Teaching in the classrooms seems to be the worst affected in this ‘rebellion’ by cooks. So much so that a section of school children have been involved in the agitation.
The apparent reasons for such a ‘rebellion’ are allegedly “short supply of food and supply of poor quality food” by the NGOs engaged in the scheme. Isn’t there anything more to it than what meets the eye?
The overall ambiance over the issue in Assam is – a large number of headmasters are not happy with the involvement of NGOs in the midday-meal scheme that was dealt by them. Cooks and helpers involved in the scheme, on the other hand, are scared of losing their jobs. There is allegedly not only short supply but also supply of poor quality food in a few cases. However, the overall impression being given is that all the NGOs engaged in the scheme resort to “short supply and supply of unhygienic food” for school children. To buttress their allegations, the cooks even bring poor quality and unhygienic food on their own and throw them on the roads.
When contacted, a top-level officer in the State Education department said, “The very purpose of engaging NGOs in the midday meal scheme is to free headmasters who have to do marketing and other works for it so that they can devote more time on teaching and school administration. Apart from this, many headmasters have been embroiled in anomalies regarding midday meal. Even inquiries are going on against a good number of them. We’ve engaged just 15 NGOs in 25 per cent of the schools of the State as a pilot project.”
When contacted, SSA (Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan) Managing Director Shamsher Singh said, “One thing is crystal clear. The deputy commissioners are the nodal officers of the Midday-Meal Scheme. They’ve been entrusted to monitor quality, quantity and safety of food meant for the scheme. If there is anything substandard, the deputy commissioners are there to bring the situation back on track. All the deputy commissioners have been asked to form a team for each of the central kitchens for midday meal to monitor quality, quantity and safety of the food served.”
Singh further said: “Cooks and helpers aren’t government employees. They, however, get an honorarium for the job they do in the ‘Midday Meal Scheme’. However, with the NGOs coming to the scene, they feel that their job security is on shaky ground. However, the current exercise is not to terminate their jobs. In the new system they’ll now become food distributors from cooks and continue to get their honorarium. However, some people are making them shaky over their job security. Akshay Patro, an NGO, has been smoothly providing the midday meal to around 100 schools in North Guwahati since last year. The scheme is going on there without any hiccups.”
A section of cooks alleges that since the NGOs have to supply midday meal to a number of schools from a central kitchen they have to start cooking at midnight. “When such food reaches the schools; and get served among children at noon, it becomes almost stale. The situation was quite different when we cooked the meal. We cooked the food during the school hours at schools, and could serve fresh food,” a section of cooks claimed.