No School Food for Lakhs of Kids in Telangana
DECCAN CHRONICLE | Rachel Dammala
Hyderabad: Lakhs of school students went hungry across Telangana even as more than 50,000 mid-day meal workers, who continued their state-wide strike on day two, took to the streets and held dharnas outside mandal offices and submitted their complaints and demands.
None of the officials from the education department, or even education minister Sabita Indra Reddy, have responded in any way to the demands of the protesting mid-day meal workers from across the state.
The primary demands of the striking mid-day meal workers include that the BRS government keep its promise of 3,000 honorarium and pay bills for the cooking costs.
"The promise was made a year ago. A government order was released too. Yet, we have not been receiving reimbursements for the cooking costs, let alone the promised honorarium of 3,000. Some of us have been working since 2005, some joined recently, but could soon leave as we see nothing but injustice — both to the cooks as well as school children," said Mahima R., a worker from Karimnagar.
As lakhs of students benefit from the scheme, for more than nine months now, workers, who are mostly from self-help groups in rural villages, who have been mistreated, continued to work.
They demanded a hike in salary, recognition and ID cards too. "Those are still a far-fetched dream. If at least the government can help us buy raw material for the meals. Is that too much to ask? The government only provides rice, eggs every alternate day and vegetables, especially with prices hitting the roof, are impossible demands to meet," said Parvin, who added that they had been trying to manage things on their own for more than a half a year now, but cannot afford to do so anymore.
"Even people who helped and volunteered and lent money, won't do it, anymore, and rightly so," Mahima told Deccan Chronicle.
"I honestly worry about the quality of food being served at schools. When the budget is lacking, quality suffers. Children have developing bodies and if workers are forced to feed stale food by just reheating it, their health is at stake," said a sobbing parent, who turned up at a workers' strike at Mahbubabad to support them.
She said that she had herself volunteered to help cook meals and did bring leftover vegetables from her home at times.
Chityala Lakshmi, one of the workers protesting from Nirmal district, said that they would be holding a dharna in front of the commissioner's office on Wednesday.
"If authorities don't budge, we will hold a 'Chalo Hyderabad samme' where we will urge education minister Sabita Indra Reddy to take action," she said.
Malayala Govardhan, general secretary of mid-day meal workers' association in Nizamabad said that they will wait for a response from officials until Wednesday evening before going on an indefinite strike if the government remains silent even then.
Several workers admitted that they had not been able to provide meals according to updated menu as that would cost them a lot more.
Meanwhile, several government schools across the state asked students to bring their meals from home for the next two days, while at some other schools, teachers prepared meals for the days, some even had higher class students helping them and other schools hired cooks from the neighbourhood to ensure kids don't bear the brunt of the strike.
"This is a state government that came to power promising free KG to PG education. Now, under their watch, school children are hungry, mid-way meal cooks are on strike, teachers are unable to teach. If you can't feed school children, what kind of economic growth, or development, are we talking about," asked another parent.