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Bouquet for NGO, brickbat for others

Cooks, helpers threaten to move court

By Debananda Medak in Guwahati

  • Published 8.11.19, 12:19 AM
  • Updated 8.11.19, 12:19 AM
SUCI (Communist) members stage a sit-in at Tezpur on Thursday over distribution of midday meals in schools by NGOs
SUCI (Communist) members stage a sit-in at Tezpur on Thursday over distribution of midday meals in schools by NGOs Picture by UB Photos

The All Assam Primary and Upper Primary Mid-day Meal Cook and Helpers’ Association on Thursday threatened to move court, challenging the engagement of 15 NGOs for preparing midday meals for primary schools in the state.

The association’s adviser, Trishna Nath, said, “If the state government continues to be indifferent towards the cause of our movement, we will be forced to file a public interest litigation. We will move Gauhati High Court to challenge Dispur’s decision.”

Nath said they would fight alone to achieve their goal. “We will not take help from other organisations or unions to put pressure on the government. If the state government does not alter its decision, we are ready for a legal battle. We are committed to bring back cooks and helpers of the state to school kitchens.”

Nath said they would highlight the poor performance of the NGOs in court.

She also denied state education minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya’s allegation that midday meal cooks and helpers were instigated by trade unions.

A section of midday meal workers protested in front of the Dhemaji district Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Mission office, reiterating their demands of removing NGOs from cooking mid-day meal, regularising the jobs of cooks and helpers and increase their remunerations.

The association alleged that the NGOs had failed to deliver mid-day meal at times in several parts of the state.

Service withdrawn

In Hojai, 390 schools did not get midday meal, assigned to be delivered by Moon Light NGO, on Thursday, district commissioner Tanmoy Pratim Borgohain said.

Moon Light manager Dhurba Bora said they had informed the administration of their temporary withdrawal of service and requested them to inform the schools.

He said they had withdrawn their services out of “fear” as their “workers had been assaulted and attacked” and “utensils ransacked” at many places while delivering midday meals to schools.

“Moon Light officials have instructed us not to supply midday meal for two days. They will give further instructions,” he added.

The head master of Marwari Prathamic Vidalaya, Hojai, Ramesh Harizan, said, “All of a sudden, we received the information that the NGO would not serve meals.”

The head master of 1135 Chutalikha LP School, Jitendra Chauhan, said they were able to serve midday meal to students as they some stock of rice but the NGO’s sudden decision was disappointing.

Borgohain told The Telegraph, “The NGO informed us that they have temporarily withdrawn supply because of hardships and technical snags. They did not specify when they will resume supply. We have issued an advisory to schools to prepare their own meals using their old stocks of rice till then.”

When asked how will schools which do not have stocks manage, he said the state government had not given any clear-cut instruction on this.

Many guardians were happy with schools preparing meals, saying that their wards will get “hot, cooked food” instead of meals prepared by the NGO in a centralised kitchen in a far-flung place in the district.

Midday meal workers and guardians have been protesting against NGOs supplying midday meals to schools since November 1.

Additional reporting by Nikhil Kumar Mundra in Hojai