People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 16, 2006
On Delhi During Monsoon Session
THE All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers is organising a ten-day mass relay hunger strike in Delhi from July 25 to August 3, during the monsoon session of parliament. Thousands of anganwadi workers and helpers from all over the country, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Amritsar to Agartala will be participating in the hunger strike to make the ‘deaf’ hear. This struggle is being organised after the central government has failed to respond to a series of struggles from the project to the state level.
The struggle programme will focus on the major demands like universalisation of ICDS and opening anganwadi centres to cover all the 16 crore children below 6 years in our country, regularisation of the services of anganwadi workers and helpers as Grade III and Grade IV employees, immediate enhancement of their monthly remuneration to Rs 3,000 for workers and Rs 2,000 for helpers, linkage of their remuneration with Consumer Price Index, exgratia of Rs 1,00,000 for workers and Rs 50,000 for helpers being ‘retired’ at the age of 60 years, implementation of social security benefits like Provident Fund, ESI, Pension etc, and formation of the tripartite committee at the national level on the issues of anganwadi employees.
A delegation comprising Neelima Maitra, president, Hemalata, general secretary, A R Sindhu, treasurer of the Federation along with W R Varada Rajan and Tapan Sen, both secretaries of CITU, met the Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury on July 6 and presented a memorandum with these demands.
The minister agreed to the various points that were raised in the memorandum but did not give any assurance on the concrete demands raised in it. In such a situation, the Federation decided to go ahead with its struggle programme. Preparations are going on all over the country and hundreds of anganwadi employees from different states will be participating in the hunger strike on each day.
M K Pandhe, president of CITU will inaugurate the programme on July 25. Leaders of different mass organisations, particularly those representing the beneficiaries like AIDWA, AIKS, AIAWU, CITU and its affiliated unions will address the fasting anganwadi employees on each day. Jana Natya Manch will be presenting cultural programmes in solidarity. The Federation has appealed to the members of parliament to raise the demands within the parliament and support the struggling anganwadi employees.
The memorandum elaborated the following points in justification of the demands of the anganwadi employees.
Even after more than 30 years, the ICDS continues only as a Scheme and the anganwadi workers and helpers, the key grass root level functionaries of the ICDS, are not even recognised as employees by the government. They are paid only a meagre honorarium. They do not have any job security or social security. After decades of service they do not have anything to fall back upon in their old age and are forced to starve. They do not have any promotional avenues.
The studies by several agencies, including the recent NIPCCD study to appraise three decades of ICDS commissioned by the Women and Child Development Ministry, have established the positive role of ICDS in bringing down the incidence of severe malnutrition among children, increasing immunisation coverage, monitoring growth of children, providing pre school education and nutrition and health education to women. By providing childcare services the anganwadi centres also play an important role in helping rural workingwomen. But, even though ICDS has been expanded in the last 30 years, still it covers only around one third of children below six years in the country.
The Supreme Court has in 2001 ordered that every settlement in the country should have a functioning anganwadi centre, that all sanctioned anganwadi centres be immediately operationalised and the number of anganwadi centres be increased to 14 lakhs. The Supreme Court directive for universalisation stems from the concern to improve the human development indices of the country and the recognition of the services being rendered by the anganwadi centres.
The UPA has also committed in its NCMP that it would ‘universalise the ICDS to provide a functional anganwadi in every settlement and ensure full coverage for all children’.
The anganwadi workers and helpers are denied minimum wages and social security benefits by calling them ‘part time social workers’, which does not reflect their actual status. The Government of India, decides the criteria for recruitment of anganwadi workers and helpers; the government makes budgetary provision for the wages of the anganwadi workers and helpers, which is misleadingly called ‘honorarium’ and the government has put in place a supervisory mechanism consisting of ICDS Supervisors at the Circle level and Child Development Project Offices at the project level to supervise the work of the anganwadi workers and helpers and take disciplinary actions for any shortcomings. All these officers are government employees but the anganwadi workers and helpers, who are the key functionaries at the grass root level and are instrumental in the effective implementation of ICDS are denied the status of government employees, which is a gross injustice towards these women.
The ‘honorarium’ paid to the anganwadi workers and helpers is so low that it is impossible to meet the minimum basic needs of any family with this amount. While the prices of all the essential commodities are skyrocketing, there is no provision of any Dearness Allowance for anganwadi workers and helpers, forcing them to starvation.
Many anganwadi workers and helpers, who have been working for 20 – 25 years and have attained 58 years, are now being ‘retired’ without any pension or compensation. After working in the ICDS for decades, serving the children and women in the area, they have nothing to fall back on in their old age.
Terming anganwadi workers and helpers ‘part time workers’ is a mismatch because in practice, they work for more than 7 hours to discharge the various jobs entrusted to them by the state governments, like creating awareness on ORS, Upper Respiratory Infections, Directly Observed Treatment System (DOTS) for Tuberculosis, AIDS awareness, motivation and education on birth control methods etc; total literacy programmes, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, DPEP, Non Formal Education etc. In some states they are even involved in the promotion of small savings, group insurance, in forming Self Help Groups, in conducting surveys to identify BPL families, Leprosy survey, Filariasis survey, cattle census etc. In short, the anganwadi centres are used as centres for the delivery of a variety of services to the people and for implementation of various government programmes. In some states they are also given the responsibility of organising campaigns against dowry and child marriage etc. But they are not even paid minimum wages. Many states pay no additional remuneration for the additional work; even in the states where additional remuneration is paid, it is too little.
It is in this context that the Petitions Committee, Rajya Sabha has observed that ‘the anganwadi workers and helpers definitely need to have something equal to the minimum wages, especially when their workload has increased manifold and the state governments are also utilising their services’. This observation of the Petitions’ Committee, Rajya Sabha needs serious consideration and implementation.
The memorandum emphasised that in view of the contribution of the ICDS in ensuring the right to food, health and education of the children of our country and the important role of the anganwadi workers and helpers in the effective discharge of the various services under ICDS, it was necessary to ensure that the demands of the anganwadi workers and helpers are met immediately.