Stalin launched the free breakfast scheme for Classes 1 to 5 students
Stalin launched the free breakfast scheme for Classes 1 to 5 studentsFile

Kept off breakfast scheme, noon meal workers peeved

The scheme was inaugurated in 1,545 primary schools, serving 1.14 lakh children, in the first stage.

CHENNAI: Noon meal workers lauding the free breakfast scheme launched by Chief Minister MK Stalin on September 15, expressed disappointment for being excluded from the initiative. Over 80,000 noon meal cooks and organisers working for decades with the scheme in Tamil Nadu, urged the government to include them during the full-fledged scheme implementation.

To address both malnutrition and routine practice of students coming empty stomach to schools in the morning, Stalin in May announced a free breakfast scheme in government primary schools. In the first phase of implementation this month, the scheme has been inaugurated in 1,545 primary schools serving breakfast to as many as 1.14 lakh children.

Besides ensuring the children are fed nutritious food, the scheme is also said to attract more students to government schools, reduce dropout rates and minimise the burden on working mothers, especially from economically weaker backgrounds.

Though the scheme has been appreciated for its motive, the implementation and roping in certain workers have angered long-serving noon meal workers in the State. Speaking to DT Next, the noon meal workers questioned the reason to bring in workers of self-help groups (SHGs) under National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) to prepare breakfast.

R Kesavan, Chennai district Secretary of noon meal and retired Anganwadi workers’ welfare association said, “When the Chief Minister made announcement for the scheme in May, we requested that noon meal workers in TN can prepare the breakfast as already we have been preparing mid-day meals for the children. But, this request was discarded, despite holding protests at many places.”

“But, we have decided to persist on the demands. And we request the government to include us during the complete implementation of the schemes at all schools and classes in TN,”added Kesavan.

Incidentally, most noon meal workers say they are unsure where the breakfast is being prepared and who will be responsible if the child falls unwell after consuming the breakfast and lunch prepared by two different groups?

Sources say that for feasibility, the SHG workers within municipality and corporation limits have been told to prepare breakfast at centralised kitchens and community kitchens. But, in certain rural areas, the workers have been told to prepare breakfast at the noon-meal centres of each school.

The SHG workers must begin preparing breakfast at 5 am and wrap up by 7 am. Followed by this, the food in big containers will be loaded off in vehicles to reach respective schools before 8:50 am.

As of 2021, there are 42,433 noon meal organisers, 42,852 cooks, 42,855 helpers working under the social welfare department across 43,283 centres feeding as many as 49.85 lakh students.

C Balakrishnan, Kallakurichi association president of noon meal welfare association working with the scheme as a cook and later as an organizer for 40 years said, “Ahead of implementation, the government has trained SHG workers to prepare breakfast and help them understand mass cooking. But, when we have noon meal workers with decades of experience here, why rope in amateur cooks?”

Balakrishnan further goes on to point out the practical difficulty. “When in rural areas SHG workers and noon meal workers are said to share the same kitchen, several issues and constraints will arise. The fair method for the government is to renovate the noon meal centres at each district and employ more persons so that a noble scheme functions smoothly.”

Hence the workers urge the State government to include these members and revise the implementation policy of the free breakfast scheme before it takes off completely in Tamil Nadu.

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