Varanasi’s Mid-Day Meal (MDM) cooks on November 9, 2021 were at odds with the Uttar Pradesh authorities, who assured that the eight-month pending wages have been sent to cooks’ banking accounts. Workers under the MDM scheme recently condemned the state government for failing to pay Rs. 1,500 for the last eight months. This amount comes to Rs. 12,000 per 3.95 lakh cooks in UP.
The Mid-day Meal Authority (MDMA) on its part said that the required funds were only received recently. Since November 2, authorities have told the media that payments will be made soon. Deputy Director Uday Bhan confirmed the same to SabrangIndia, saying that most cooks have already received their payment. “Some four places are yet to receive their bank transfers but the money has been sent. We request the workers to check their accounts. We are looking into discrepancies,” he said.
However, according to Supoojan, who is the Mahaulipur, Cholapur block’s public primary school cook, no money was sent to cooks as of Tuesday morning. “I am notified by my bank whenever the money is transferred. I even visited the office in the morning. I have been working here since the Mulayam Singh Yadav government. The wages have barely been enough to educate my daughters. We should receive at least Rs. 10,000 a month,” he said.
Even when every house in the state was lit by Diwali lights on November 4, workers’ accounts remained barren of any pending wages.
“I had no money for Diwali. I couldn’t even buy clothes or cook special food for my three daughters,” said Supoojan’s colleague and cook Savitribai. Having worked for 13 years from 9 AM to 3 PM, Savitribai managed to educate her eldest child until Class 10. However, bereft of any money, she sees no means to continue the education of her two sisters who study in ninth and sixth standards.
Another cook Laxmi said that even her complimentary work in her own farm barely earned her any cash because she cannot buy the required fertilisers, etc. to grow her field. “I am the sole bread-winner for my three children and mother-in-law. My husband has been missing for the last 20 years or so,” she said.
Laxmi’s eldest son, who studied till Class 10, tries to help by doing odd-jobs. Yet all cooks agree that their situation will not improve until their wages are revised and jobs are made permanent.
In 2017, MDM cooks launched a mahapadav to New Delhi. At the time, workers expressed two demands: payments through bank accounts and job permanency. While the former was accepted by the government, they are yet to hear about job security.
Nowadays after surviving the second wave of Covid-19, cooks have appealed for better wages, pointing out that even MGNREGA workers receive Rs. 202 a day. As of November 2021, cooks in Uttar Pradesh earn Rs. 50 for working six hours under the MDM scheme.