December 20, 2021 4:10:14 am
AROUND 65 per cent of India’s 24.95 lakh cook-cum-helpers engaged under the mid-day meal scheme, now known as PM Poshan, are paid less than Rs 2,000 per month, according to official records.
In eight states and three Union Territories, the monthly pay of this workforce remains frozen at Rs 1,000 since 2009, despite many Parliamentary committees over the years recommending a hike.
In UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Odisha, which collectively account for another 29.72 per cent of the mid-day meal workforce, the monthly payments have seen minor hikes over the years, but remain well below Rs 2,000, records show.
Meanwhile, the southern states and Union Territories are miles ahead in terms of monthly payment with Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala paying up to Rs 21,000, Rs 12,000 and Rs 9,000 respectively on a monthly basis to the cooks and helpers, also known as CCHs.
Review of cooking cost
After repackaging the Mid-Day Meal scheme as PM Poshan, the Centre also announced that it will review the formula to calculate the cooking cost per child. However, there are no immediate plans for a relook of the monthly pay of those who help implement the scheme on the ground.
According to a senior Union government official, the Ministry of Education had, in 2018 and 2020, pitched for a hike in the wages to Rs 2,000, but the proposals were shot down by the Finance Ministry which maintained that the states should top up the payment based on requirements and demands. This is also the stock response of the Education Ministry when states demand a raise in the honorarium of the CCHs.
“The cooks and helpers are classified as honorary workers who have come forward to render social services. They are not considered workers and consequently, the legislations on minimum wages are not applied to them,” said the official. Under PM Poshan, the funds for payments to cooks and workers are split by the Centre in a 60:40 ratio with states, and UTs with legislatures.
In March, a Rajya Sabha standing committee in its report “noted the disparity in the honorarium paid to the cook-cum-helper by different states and recommends that the department should develop a uniform system for deciding the honorarium to be paid to the cooks and parity should be maintained between different States.” An identical recommendation was also made by another Rajya Sabha standing committee in 2020.
Over the years, the issue of irregular payments to CCHs has also surfaced at regular intervals. Throughout much of 2021, nearly 3.93 lakh CCHs in Uttar Pradesh were not paid, prompting a missive from the PM Poshan wing of the Ministry of Education to state authorities last month.
In its response on November 30, the UP Mid Day Meal authority said it had received the Centre’s share in May with a rider that the money will have to be paid through single nodal agency (SNA) accounts under the new Public Financial Management System. The UP government opened an SNA account with the SBI, which said on September 21 that activating the account will take three to four months.
Later, the state requested the Centre to exempt it from the new system, which it obtained for the ongoing year. Subsequently, it was further delayed at the level of the state finance department, the UP MDM authority added.
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