A strike by cooks and helpers of the Akshara Dasoha (mid-day meal scheme) left students in many government and government-aided private schools in Dakshina Kannada in a tight spot on Thursday.

The strike did not have any impact in schools in the jurisdiction of the Mangalore City Corporation where ISKCON’s Akshaya Patra Foundation supplies meals. The cooks and helpers were demanding a hike in their monthly salary.

A cook is paid Rs. 1,200 while a helper gets Rs. 1,100 per month currently.

Koragappa T., a senior assistant teacher at Government High School in Bandar, Belthangady, said that teachers took help from houses near the school and parents got some food for the school’s 91 students. “We have many limitations here but at the same time we cannot say the workers should be denied their right to ask for higher salary,” he said.

Adding to their workload was that being a Thursday, it was the day the children had to get milk through the Ksheera Bhagya scheme (served on alternate days). In one school, the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) helped deal with the issue. Babu P. M., Headmaster of Government High School in Siddakatte, Bantwal, said the SDMC brought food for the school’s 398 students. Nine teachers prepared and served milk to the students. Teachers pitched in and stood in the workers. Divakara Acharya, Headmaster of Government High School, Uppinangady, said the 16 teachers cooked a simple meal for the school’s 625 students on Thursday. “We somehow managed today but we don’t know what we will do if the protest continues. I am waiting to see if there is a decision taken on the issue,” he said on Thursday.

Manjula K.L., Educational Officer, Akshara Dasoha, Dakshina Kannada, said, “We have told students in advance to get tiffin boxes.” Of 1,430 schools covered under the scheme, cooks and helpers work in 1,281 schools. There are 3,169 cooks and helpers working in the district. In the remaining schools, food is provided by ISKCON’s Akshaya Patra Foundation.

Workers’ demands

The workers of Akshara Dasoha scheme under the aegis of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) staged a protest in front of the office of Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat here on Thursday demanding a salary of Rs. 3,000 for both cooks and helpers. They argued that if their counterparts in Tamil Nadu were paid well, the same should happen in Karnataka. Their demands also included that those who have worked for 11 years should not be removed from service.

If two schools are merged, the workers from the merged school should be retained. They should get double salary for working during natural calamities, holidays and summer vacations.

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