People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 42

October 18, 2009

SIXTH ALL INDIA ANGANWADI CONFERENCE

 

Intensify Struggles to Save ICDS; Improve Conditions of Employees



Anganwadi workers and helpers from all over Punjab holding a rally

 

K Hemalata

 

 

THE sixth conference of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) concluded in Chandigarh on 12 October 2009 with a firm resolve to step up the struggles to ‘Save ICDS’ and improve the conditions of the anganwadi employees. It has also called upon the anganwadi employees all over the country to join the trade union struggles opposing the anti people policies of the UPA government without which it would neither be possible to save ICDS nor to improve their conditions.

 

585 delegates from 23 states participated in the conference held on 9- 12 October. The venue of the conference was named as Ahilya Rangnekar Nagar (Bhakna Bhawan). After the AIFAWH flag was hoisted by Neelima Maitra, president of the organisation, the delegates most of them dressed in the traditional attires of their states marched in a procession from Kisan Bhawan to Sector 25 where a massive rally was held. More than 15,000 anganwadi employees from all over Punjab and the neighbouring states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh participated in the rally. Neelima Maitra presided over the rally. Usha Rani, president of the Anganwadi Mulajam Union, Punjab welcomed the gathering. Hemalata, general secretary of AIFAWH, Vijay Mishra, president and Raghunath Singh, general secretary of Punjab state committee of CITU and Harjit Kaur, general secretary of Anganwadi Mulajam Union, Punjab addressed the gathering. A beautiful cultural programme of traditional Punjabi dance forms by union members and school children was presented by the reception committee.

 

DELEGATE

SESSION

 

The delegates’ session started in the evening of 9 October. Amarjeet Singh, former additional solicitor general and chairman of the reception committee welcomed the delegates to the state of Bhagat Singh and Jalianwala Bagh reminding the role of all those who laid down their lives in the struggle to liberate the country from British imperialists. He expressed confidence that the sixth conference of AIFAWH being held in Bhakna Bhawan, constructed in memory of Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna would inspire the delegates to fight against imperialist dictated policies and for justice and equal opportunities for all.

 

Kanai Banerjee, secretary of CITU inaugurated the conference. He congratulated the AIFAWH for the impressive progress since the last conference and its initiative to save ICDS. He said that the anganwadi employees were playing a crucial role in the development of children, the future human resources of the country, but the government was totally neglecting their genuine demands. A large number of anganwadi employees as well as the beneficiaries belonged to socially oppressed sections and faced problems like caste discrimination. The agricultural workers, poor peasants etc among whom the anganwadi employees work are facing many problems due to the policies pursued by the government. It was necessary to help these sections to get organised. He urged the delegates to address the social issues of the anganwadi employees along with their economic demands and expressed the confidence that the decisions taken in the conference would help AIFAWH in advancing the movement of anganwadi employees.

 

In her presidential address, Neelima Maitra referred to the global economic crisis and said that the employers were trying to increase the attacks on workers in the name of global recession. She said such crises were part of the capitalist system. She also pointed out that resistance to the policies of globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation was increasing all over the world and in several Latin American countries, governments that were close to US imperialism were being defeated and pro Left governments were being elected. But the UPA government in our country is not ready to change track from the neo liberal policies and is trying to hand over the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) to the SHGs, corporates, NGOs etc, as per the dictates of the World Bank. She called upon the delegates to take note of the broader context of the international and national situation while discussing their problems and formulating future tasks.

 

GEN SEC’S

REPORT

 

 Hemalata, general secretary of AIFAWH placed the report on behalf of the working committee. The report was highly critical of the pro rich bias of the UPA government, which was leading to widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. The country’s position in the Human Development Index has been continuously coming down and is now at 134 among 182 countries. India has become the Hunger Capital of the world. But the UPA government is not making adequate financial allocations to programmes like ICDS, NRHM etc to effectively address the situation. It is misinterpreting the results of the parliament elections where the Left suffered a set back, as a licence to push forward with its policies of privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation. The report briefly analysed the post election situation in the country and warned that dissatisfaction and disillusion against the government was bound to occur soon due to the policies pursued by the UPA government. It was necessary to channel this into intense struggles to reverse the policies. It also condemned the serious attacks on the Left parties particularly the CPI(M) in West Bengal. The Left was being attacked ideologically and physically - it was pointed out - because it was the only force that opposed strategic tie up with US imperialism mortgaging our interests, and implementation of any policies that were against the interests of the common people in the country.

 

The report asserted that the ICDS and the conditions of the anganwadi employees were governed by the policies of the government and stressed to create this awareness among the anganwadi employees. It also highlighted the poor infrastructure, the lack of basic necessities like toilets, drinking water and space for the children in the anganwadi centres. These along with irregular supply of nutritious food, gross interference by panchayats and local politicians and others are leading to deterioration of the functioning of the anganwadi centres.

 

In stead of taking effective measures to improve the infrastructure and ensure regular supply of good quality, locally acceptable food in the required quantities, the government is resorting to make changes prescribed by the World Bank, that lead to further deterioration in the conditions.

 

The conditions of anganwadi workers and helpers continue to be miserable. The government has now decided to increase their working hours from 4 ½ to 6 hours per day; but they are not being paid minimum wages; they do not have any social security benefits. The prime minister has failed to fulfil his assurance to provide ‘parting gift’ to the anganwadi employees being forcefully retired at 58 – 60 years. Now the UPA government has shifted the burden of taking a decision on retirement and providing retirement benefits to the state governments.

 

The general secretary’s report reviewed the implementation of the direction of the last conference to intensify struggles and strengthen the organisation; to link up struggles with education and organisation and to focus on the development of conscious, capable and committed cadres. The report pointed out that raising proper demands, effective preparations, efforts to approach the anganwadi employees outside the purview of the unions and taking up the struggle forms in which large number of anganwadi employees were ready to participate helped in the huge mobilisations in all these struggles. The ten day mass relay hunger strike in Delhi, the march to parliament and courting of arrest, the mass deputation to the prime minister after collecting around 2 crore signatures etc created great enthusiasm among the anganwadi employees, particularly in the Hindi speaking states. The conscious efforts to strengthen the organisations in the Hindi speaking states by organising separate meetings, central trade union classes etc, have helped in increasing the activities in these states. While the membership of AIFAWH increased by more than 68 per cent over that at the time of the last conference, in the Hindi speaking states, it has increased by over 125 per cent. The report emphasised the need to further intensify these efforts in view of the fact that around 62 per cent of the total anganwadi employees in the country exist in the Hindi speaking states.

 

37 delegates from all the states participated in the discussions and endorsed the report presented by the general secretary and strengthened it with their experiences, after which it was unanimously adopted. The treasurer’s report and accounts placed by A R Sindhu was also adopted unanimously by the conference.

 

The conference organised discussions in four commissions on four important topics – ‘ICDS – How to Make Results Meet Expectations’, ‘Changes in ICDS – Restructuring or Dismantling’, ‘Social Security for Anganwadi Employees’ and ‘Democratic Functioning’. More than 100 anganwadi employees participated in these discussions. The observations of the commissions were placed in the conference.

 

FUTURE

TASKS

 

The conference demanded that adequate financial allocations should be made for universalisation of ICDS by 2010 to cover all eligible children, open full fledged anganwadi centres and not mini anganwadi centres and to convert all the mini anganwadi centres into full fledged anganwadi centres, include provision of supplementary nutrition under ICDS as a statutory right under the Food Security Act, construct pucca buildings  with all facilities including toilets, drinking water, space for playing and resting for the children, adequate supply of toys, medicines etc for all anganwadi centres. It has also demanded that the pre school component of the ICDS should be strengthened by providing proper training and retraining for the anganwadi centres and converting the anganwadi centres into day care cum crèches and provision of two meals to the children attending the centres.

 

While recognising the need to make changes to improve the functioning, the conference demanded the government that all concerned including the organisations of the anganwadi employees, the organisations representing the beneficiaries like the All India Democratic Women’s Association, All India Agricultural Union, All India Kisan Sabha and CITU should be consulted and their recommendations taken into consideration before making any changes, and not that of CARE or USAID.

 

The conference unanimously adopted several resolutions including those on price rise and food security for all, universalisation of ICDS, against the attacks on the Left in West Bengal, on unorganised workers, against the attacks on workers’ rights, on comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers, in support of the demands of ASHAs and mid day meal workers etc.

 

A well attended seminar was held on 10 October on ‘ICDS and Human Development’. Neelima Maitra presided over the seminar in which the eminent economist and deputy chairman of Kerala Planning Board, Prabhat Patnaik was the main speaker. Brinda Karat, MP could not participate due to her engagements in the election campaign in Maharashtra and Tapan Sen, MP and secretary of CITU, due to a grave personal tragedy.

‘Marching Ahead’, a book published by AIFAWH on the major struggles led by it and its affiliated unions, along with the achievements and related GOs, to be utilised as a tool in organising for the activists, was released by Mohammed Amin, general secretary of CITU on 11 October. The first copy was handed over to M K Pandhe, president of CITU, who concluded the session. Pandhe said that because of the growing discontent against the policies being pursued by the UPA government, the growing unemployment, job losses, attacks on the trade union rights etc, all the central trade unions including INTUC and BMS came together to fight against these policies. He urged the anganwadi employees to participate in large numbers in the all India protest day on 28 October 2009.

 

The conference adopted a 29 point charter of demands which will be the basis for the future campaigns and struggles. It has also unanimously adopted the future tasks that included tasks relating to the  movement and organisational tasks. It has decided to conduct a wide campaign to popularise the charter of demands through project level general bodies in the month of November and to organise massive rallies in all the state capitals on the same day in April 2010, the exact date will be decided by the new working committee. It has also decided to concentrate on improving the functioning of the project committees; to pay special attention to the problems of the anganwadi helpers; concentrate on cadre development and make serious efforts to recruit at least one full timer for the union at the state level; develop stronger ties with the beneficiaries and involve them in the struggle to save ICDS; increase participation in the joint trade union struggles and campaigns; and to increase the membership to Seven lakhs by the time of the next conference.

 

A 21 member team of office bearers with Neelima Maitra as president, Hemalata as general secretary and Saroj Sharma as treasurer was elected unanimously by the conference.

 

The conference was greeted by Asha Lata, secretary of AIDWA, Rachpal Singh from AIKS and Raghunath Singh from the Punjab state committee of CITU. On behalf of all the delegates, A R Sindhu thanked the Anganwadi Mulajam Union, Punjab and the Punjab state committee of CITU for making excellent arrangements for the accommodation and food of the delegates and the smooth conduct of the conference.