In bad news for scores of government school students across the state, 8,000 noon meal centres have been ordered shut owing to a re-jig of staff. This comes months after employees of the government-run programme demanded rightful wages for their work, going on an indefinite strike.
According to a report in the Times of India, the state government has ordered the closure of noon meal centres with less than 25 school students, in order to re-position the strength of the existing staff.
However, the government has reportedly assured that food supply to the students would not be affected. The government is expected to transport food from nearby centres.
Speaking to the newspaper, Tamil Nadu Noon Meal Workers Association secretary R Noorjahan said, âAlready 10,000 cooking assistant posts are vacant and this will weaken the nutritious meal programme further. When the government is ready to pay over Rs 1 lakh for teachers in low-enrolment schools, what is the big deal about paying Rs. 5,000 for cooks?â
The closure of noon meal centres in âlow-enrolmentâ areas also means loss of jobs for workers since the new rule would replace the triumvirate of an organiser, a cook and an assistant with just one staff member.
According to a report in The Hindu, RK Nagar MLA and AMMK chief TTV Dhinakaran slammed the government over the move saying, âgovernment which has been projecting itself as a government established by Amma (former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa) was now trying to undermine different schemes launched by AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa which were trendsetters for the rest of the country.
In October this year, scores of noon meal scheme workers went on strike across Tamil Nadu, demanding better pay. Other demands put forth by the workers included maternity benefits for women workers, extending health insurance coverage under the Chief Ministerâs Comprehensive Health Insurance scheme to cooks and assistants, filling of vacancies in the posts to cooks and assistants etc.
Launched by former Chief Minister K Kamaraj and extended and popularised by former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran, the noon meal scheme has been an incentive for increasing enrolment and reducing dropouts from government schools.