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UP: Mid-day meal cooks not paid wages for eight months of wages

While government officials claim that the women will soon receive their wages, cooks-cum-helpers how long they can survive without money.

Sabrangindia 05 Nov 2021

mid day
Representation Image

Varanasi’s Mid-day Meal (MDM) cook Pooja Devi celebrated Diwali on November 4, 2021 by serving her family a humble meal of daal-roti and rice. While most Indians indulge in week-long sessions of consuming festive-delicacies, the 37-year-old remains frugal, unsure of when she will receive her salary – pending eight months – that adds up to a grand total of Rs. 12,000.

“Mid-day meal cooks earn Rs. 1,500 a month for working 5-6 hours in schools every day," she told SabrangIndia asking, "Oil is something like Rs. 240. What will I buy for Rs. 1,500? Should I buy food or soap?” 

Since 2010, Pooja has walked 3 kms to the local government primary and middle school to cook a meal for around 400 students along with four other cooks. Her work that previously aided in family expenses became the main source of income after the death of her husband on October 27, 2012. Since then, she has been working to provide for her three children’s education. Her youngest son, a 10-year-old, cannot study because of high fees, while the oldest son (15) wants to work to help with finances.

“Most of the MDM cooks are widows. The government should at least pay us Rs. 10,000 a month for our children’s education. NREGA workers get Rs. 202 for a day’s work. We get Rs. 50 for working six hours,” she says.

Such demands for better wages are not new in the MDM workers community. In 2016, the cook-cum-helpers in Meerut threatened to die by suicide if their 10-month salary was not paid. The district protests had ballooned into state-wide protests with women coming to the city from Lucknow, Siddharthnagar, etc. The protests then morphed into a mahapadav to New Delhi in 2017.

There, workers made two crucial demands: payments through bank accounts and job permanency. Demonstrators had also complained about the meagre wages of Rs. 1,000 at the time for cooking, washing utensils, cleaning and at times even serving tea to teaching staff.

These demands for job security, better wages and payment methods were supported by everyone, remembers Pooja’s colleague Chandrakala, who has worked for 12 years as a cook-cum-helper.

“The government agreed to pay us via bank accounts but we still haven’t gotten job security. Moreover, this year we haven’t received payment for eight months. I have started helping with work in nearby houses now. We want timely payment. We are not asking for much,” says Chandrakala.

Unlike Pooja, Chandrakala lives closer to the school but her worries regarding her children’s education are no different. Both her kids will have their exams from November 12. She worries about how she will support them without her salary.

On September 29, the central government allocated Rs. 1.3 trillion crores for providing a “hot cooked meal” in government and government-aided schools from 2021-22 to 2025-26. The money was allocated after revamping the MDM scheme as the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN). Accounting for around Rs 45,000 crore to be spent on subsidised foodgrains over the years, the scheme received Rs. 11,000 crore per year. However, no portion of this money was directed to improving the women’s wages. 

When the Uttar Pradesh MDM Authority received a notice regarding this on October 6, the only additional provision it made for the cook-cum-helpers was under the title “motivating cooks.” It suggested that the women be named “Bhojan Mata” and that states encourage cooking competitions to motivate the use of local food material for a variety of dishes.

On November 2, the NewsClick reported that a government representative at the Basic Education Department said that payments were delayed for eight months due to “technical issues.” They claimed that the money will be disbursed in the next three days or so.

Reacting to this, Chandrakala says, “We feel the government will come through on their promise but we don’t know when. We can’t get by in our current state. Furthermore, cooks get removed because of our temporary status, so there is always a concern.”

Left with no other choice but to wait, every cook has taken on supplementary jobs. Nowadays, Pooja has started tailoring work at home and earns around Rs. 100-200 per job. This work helps her with the additional money to afford kachoris for her children and mother-in-law during Diwali – their only form of celebration this year.

Related:

UP: Anganwadi workers, MDM cooks and ASHA workers non paid wages for months!

Indian children grossly underweight or stunted across Indian states

UP: Mid-day meal cooks not paid wages for eight months of wages

While government officials claim that the women will soon receive their wages, cooks-cum-helpers how long they can survive without money.

mid day
Representation Image

Varanasi’s Mid-day Meal (MDM) cook Pooja Devi celebrated Diwali on November 4, 2021 by serving her family a humble meal of daal-roti and rice. While most Indians indulge in week-long sessions of consuming festive-delicacies, the 37-year-old remains frugal, unsure of when she will receive her salary – pending eight months – that adds up to a grand total of Rs. 12,000.

“Mid-day meal cooks earn Rs. 1,500 a month for working 5-6 hours in schools every day," she told SabrangIndia asking, "Oil is something like Rs. 240. What will I buy for Rs. 1,500? Should I buy food or soap?” 

Since 2010, Pooja has walked 3 kms to the local government primary and middle school to cook a meal for around 400 students along with four other cooks. Her work that previously aided in family expenses became the main source of income after the death of her husband on October 27, 2012. Since then, she has been working to provide for her three children’s education. Her youngest son, a 10-year-old, cannot study because of high fees, while the oldest son (15) wants to work to help with finances.

“Most of the MDM cooks are widows. The government should at least pay us Rs. 10,000 a month for our children’s education. NREGA workers get Rs. 202 for a day’s work. We get Rs. 50 for working six hours,” she says.

Such demands for better wages are not new in the MDM workers community. In 2016, the cook-cum-helpers in Meerut threatened to die by suicide if their 10-month salary was not paid. The district protests had ballooned into state-wide protests with women coming to the city from Lucknow, Siddharthnagar, etc. The protests then morphed into a mahapadav to New Delhi in 2017.

There, workers made two crucial demands: payments through bank accounts and job permanency. Demonstrators had also complained about the meagre wages of Rs. 1,000 at the time for cooking, washing utensils, cleaning and at times even serving tea to teaching staff.

These demands for job security, better wages and payment methods were supported by everyone, remembers Pooja’s colleague Chandrakala, who has worked for 12 years as a cook-cum-helper.

“The government agreed to pay us via bank accounts but we still haven’t gotten job security. Moreover, this year we haven’t received payment for eight months. I have started helping with work in nearby houses now. We want timely payment. We are not asking for much,” says Chandrakala.

Unlike Pooja, Chandrakala lives closer to the school but her worries regarding her children’s education are no different. Both her kids will have their exams from November 12. She worries about how she will support them without her salary.

On September 29, the central government allocated Rs. 1.3 trillion crores for providing a “hot cooked meal” in government and government-aided schools from 2021-22 to 2025-26. The money was allocated after revamping the MDM scheme as the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN). Accounting for around Rs 45,000 crore to be spent on subsidised foodgrains over the years, the scheme received Rs. 11,000 crore per year. However, no portion of this money was directed to improving the women’s wages. 

When the Uttar Pradesh MDM Authority received a notice regarding this on October 6, the only additional provision it made for the cook-cum-helpers was under the title “motivating cooks.” It suggested that the women be named “Bhojan Mata” and that states encourage cooking competitions to motivate the use of local food material for a variety of dishes.

On November 2, the NewsClick reported that a government representative at the Basic Education Department said that payments were delayed for eight months due to “technical issues.” They claimed that the money will be disbursed in the next three days or so.

Reacting to this, Chandrakala says, “We feel the government will come through on their promise but we don’t know when. We can’t get by in our current state. Furthermore, cooks get removed because of our temporary status, so there is always a concern.”

Left with no other choice but to wait, every cook has taken on supplementary jobs. Nowadays, Pooja has started tailoring work at home and earns around Rs. 100-200 per job. This work helps her with the additional money to afford kachoris for her children and mother-in-law during Diwali – their only form of celebration this year.

Related:

UP: Anganwadi workers, MDM cooks and ASHA workers non paid wages for months!

Indian children grossly underweight or stunted across Indian states

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