How do Cooks cum Helpers in Rajasthan Schools Manage to Survive on a Meager Monthly Payment of Rs 2143?

Advocating for adherence to labour policies, the Rajasthan government is urged to increase the honorarium of cook cum helpers, who have been receiving low compensation for the past 19 years, to Rs 21,658 per month to align with inflation rates.
Thousands of women, along with men, are involved in preparing mid-day meals for children in government schools across the state.
Thousands of women, along with men, are involved in preparing mid-day meals for children in government schools across the state. Image courtesy- Abdul Mahir

Jaipur- Despite playing a crucial role in providing nutritious meals to hundreds of students in government schools every day, mid-day meal workers in Rajasthan, receive significantly low salaries compared to other employees.

These workers are responsible for preparing meals as part of the mid-day meal scheme, aimed at improving children's nutritional intake and overall health, thus positively impacting their learning outcomes. However, the cooks cum helpers involved in this program express dissatisfaction with their meager monthly wages, which stand at two thousand rupees.

Thousands of women, along with men, are involved in preparing mid-day meals for children in government schools across the state. Recently, the Rajasthan Government Mid-Day Meal Commissioner, issued an order to increase the state's share in the honorarium by 10 percent.

Consequently, the honorarium for Cook cum Helper will be raised to Rs 2143 from an amount of Rs 2003. The Central Government's share is Rs 600, with the remaining amount covered by the state government.

Concerns have been raised by the Rajasthan Teachers Association regarding the stagnant share from the central government.

Siyaram Sharma, President of the association, has proposed a solution to address the shortage of Class IV employees by suggesting the adjustment of cook cum helpers against the vacant posts in the state. The issue highlights the disparity in pay and calls for aligning the honorarium with inflation rates, alongside post adjustments to fill vacant positions.

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) in Rajasthan is overseen by the School Education Department. The Mid-Day Meal Commissionerate is tasked with ensuring the efficient implementation and monitoring of the MDMS across the state of Rajasthan.

The state government started providing cooked meal to the children in schools under the mid-day-meal-program from July 2002. In the beginning, government of Rajasthan provided MDM from its own state budgetary resources.

Before April 2017, cook-cum-helpers in Rajasthan schools received an honorarium of Rs 1000 per month, with contributions from both the central and state governments ( 60: 40 Centre-state ratio) . This amount was insufficient to meet their needs, prompting the state government to increase it to Rs 1200 per month from its own resources starting April 1, 2017.

However, recognizing the economic challenges faced by these workers, the state government further increased their honorarium by 10 percent to Rs 1320 per month from July 1, 2018, with a larger share borne by the state government.

Despite repeated requests to the Government of India for additional increases, there has been no change in the central contribution for over 14 years. Many of these workers come from impoverished backgrounds, including widows and abandoned women, for whom this meager income is insufficient. Improving their honorarium would not only enhance their economic status but also encourage greater dedication to their work.

Central government's share stagnant

The Rajasthan government has raised the state dividend by 10%, effective from April 1, 2024, as per Order No. 1074/11.03.24. Formerly set at Rs 1403, the 10% increase amounts to Rs 140.3, resulting in a new total of Rs 1543. Additionally, the central government's share remains at Rs 600, bringing the combined total monthly payment for cooks to Rs 2143.

However, the Rajasthan Teachers Association ( Siyaram), has voiced concerns over the lack of an increase in the central government's honorarium share for an extended period.

The Mooknayak spoke with Sushila Bai, a Cook cum Helper in a government school in Udaipur district. "Raising two children single-handedly with the money is impossible. However, living in a joint family is our only respite. I cannot raise my kids with the little i get in school, but I am not educated, and cooking is all I know. I dont know what to do if i quit the job here" Sushila says, who lost her husband in an accident few years ago.

Mushtari Begum, a cook at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Malarna Dungar of Sawai Madhopur district shared her struggles with The Mooknayak, stating, "My husband has remarried. What should I do? My son and daughter are with me now. The responsibility of their upbringing and education falls on me."

She further elaborated, "Thankfully, my elder daughter is studying in the first year of BA, and my younger son is in class 9th. Along with raising them, we also have to secure their future through education. Every rupee counts; I managed to pay for my daughter's college fees. It's hard to comprehend how I sustain my household with just Rs 2000."

Manti Bairwa, who is responsible for preparing nutritious meals at Mahatma Gandhi English Medium Government School, shared her perspective with The Mooknayak, stating, "We arrive at the school early in the morning along with the teachers. Our first task is to prepare milk for the children, followed by the mid-day meal. We continue cooking on the stove from morning till evening. Despite this, the government provides us with only two thousand rupees a month. How can a poor person afford to feed themselves with such meager earnings?"

Siyaram Sharma has suggested adjusting the existing cook cum helpers against the numerous vacant Class IV posts, which currently amount to 24,691 vacancies across Rajasthan.

" Despite inflationary pressures prompting instructions to provide daily wage laborers with Rs 369 per day and unskilled laborers with Rs 11,439 per month based on the inflation price index, cook-cum-helpers are only receiving Rs 2143 per month, which is exploitative", Arun Vyas, secretary of the association told The Mooknayak.

Advocating for adherence to labor policies, the Rajasthan government is urged to increase the honorarium of cook cum helpers, who have been receiving low compensation for the past 19 years, to Rs 21,658 per month to align with inflation rates.

Thousands of women, along with men, are involved in preparing mid-day meals for children in government schools across the state.
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