People's Democracy

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


No. 26

June 27, 2010


All India Strike of Anganwadi Employees on July 9


K Hemalata


THE UPA government is in a hurry to get the civil nuclear liability bill passed in the parliament, before the master – US president Obama visits the country in the later part of this year. Raising the prices of petrol, diesel and gas, disinvestment of the public sector, finding ways and means to turn the entire country into a haven for the investors where they can enjoy all sorts of tax concessions and need not worry about implementation of labour laws or confrontation from the trade unions are some of the items on its priority list.


Amidst this busy schedule, where is the time to think about the poor anganwadi workers and helpers who care for the even poorer women and children? Hasn’t the prime minister himself reiterated that the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) was a unique programme for the benefit of the poor malnourished children? Hasn’t he commended the services of the anganwadi workers and helpers? He was also so magnanimous to agree that the anganwadi workers and helpers are poorly paid (though, it is his government that is paying them). And did he also not agree that they deserve to be provided with social security benefits? Not once, but twice in the span of four years has Dr Manmohan Singh, first as prime minister of UPA I and then again in the same capacity in UPA II government, asserted that the demands of anganwadi employees raised by the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers were genuine. And being women, more so being poor women, the anganwadi employees should have enduring patience and wait for the words to turn into deeds. This is what the government appears to think.


It may be recalled that a delegation of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers led by Sitaram Yechury, MP, met the prime minister on  May 5, 2010 to remind him of his assurances to the same delegation made four years back about providing social security benefits to the anganwadi employees. More than twenty thousand anganwadi employees were keenly waiting for two days in the ‘mahapadav’ near Jantar Mantar in Delhi and lakhs were waiting all over the country, for the response of the prime minister. They were demanding social security benefits including pension and gratuity, immediate enhancement of their remuneration in view of the unprecedented price rise, minimum wages, and to stop the attempts to privatise ICDS. The prime minister reassured the delegation that his government would seriously consider the issue of providing pension and gratuity to the anganwadi employees and enhancing their remuneration and do whatever possible after consulting the finance minister on the financial aspects.


But, nothing concrete has been done till now. In stead, the government is going ahead with its measures to weaken the functioning of the anganwadi centres by handing them over to the NGOs, community based organisations, and panchayats etc. As an eye wash, it has sanctioned on paper 14 lakh anganwadi centres, to show that it has complied with the orders of the Supreme Court, but only around 10 lakh anganwadi centres have been operationalised, which are in a position to provide all the six services under the ICDS. The conditions in these anganwadi centres are pathetic. The annual report of the ministry of women and child development itself admits the pitiable conditions at the anganwadi centres. According to the annual report, out of the 10,27,694 operational anganwadi centres, only 28.12 per cent have drinking water facilities, 22.11 per cent have toilets, 25.50 per cent have kitchen, 52.21 per cent have cooking equipment and 11.88 per cent have barrier free access. Only 27.82 per cent anganwadi centres are run from own buildings; around 22 per cent are run from rented buildings; the others are housed in a corner of the schools, panchayat buildings etc.


This apathetic attitude of the government has created resentment among the anganwadi employees. They are angry at the dilatory attitude of the government, which is on the one hand unable to deny the genuineness of their demands and on the other was not willing to provide them decent working conditions. Government representatives and high level officials eloquently speak of the need of ‘decent work’ in seminars and workshops organised by international organisations including the ILO, but when it comes to provide decent working conditions to the lakhs of women employees working in its own departments, the government contemptuously ignores them. They are also angry that while taking credit for the ‘world’s largest programme for child development’, the government was at the same time trying to dismantle it by privatising it. They are also angry that in many states, in stead of conceding their demands, the government was resorting to victimisation by targeting the union activists.


This anger of the anganwadi employees will be reflected in the all India strike called by the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers on July 9. Lakhs of anganwadi employees all over the country, including many belonging to other unions and not belonging to any union, are preparing to join the strike en masse. Some other all India federations like the Mahila Anganwadi Karmachari Sangh in Uttar Pradesh and the Akhil Bharatiya Anganwadi Karmachari Kriti Samiti at the national level have responded positively to the call of AIFAWH and decided to join the strike.


Preparations for the strike are going on in full swing. Project level meetings of anganwadi employees and also of the beneficiaries in several projects, have been completed. Lakhs of leaflets have been distributed and thousands of posters have been pasted. On June 25, delegations of anganwadi union leaders in all the states will serve the strike notice to the government through the child development project officers, district programme officers and the state commissioners. On July 9, demonstrations, dharnas, rasta rokos etc will be held at the project and district levels in the entire country.


The government of India which does not think twice before granting generous concessions to the extent of Rs Five lakh crores to the big national and multinational corporations and the rich, must at least now concede the most genuine demands of the anganwadi employees.