People's Democracy

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


No. 44

November 04, 2012

Scheme Workers’ Mahapadav on Nov 26

K Hemalata

IT is more than 62 years since we have adopted the constitution, which gave the people certain rights that are fundamental to the governance of the country. According to the constitution 'it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws'. These principles dictated the direction of State policy.

Some of these are:

Under the neoliberal regime, the State has blatantly abandoned each and every one of these directions. Today, it is brazenly marching in the opposite direction, robbing the livelihood of the people, handing over the rich natural resources of the country to the big national and multinational corporates against national interests, adopting policies that are leading to a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, worsening the conditions of workers, resulting in widening of inequalities and deterioration in the nutritional and health status of the people.

The government makes a mockery of the Acts like the Maternity Benefit Act, the Equal Remuneration Act, etc supposedly enacted to meet some of these directions, by allowing the employers to flout these with impunity. The others like the Unorganised Workers' Social Security Act, with no provision of any concrete benefit, are nothing but fraud committed on the workers. The Right to Education Act, enacted sixty two years after the commencement of the constitution, not ten years, has many weaknesses. The proposed Food Security Bill will curtail the existing benefits to large sections of the people.

Instead of providing the basic needs of the people – work, food, education, health, etc as entitlements, as rights, the government has been adopting the tactics of starting ‘programmes', ‘schemes', ‘campaigns', ‘missions' etc. This practice has increased under the neoliberal regime. By the grandiose launching of these so-called ‘flagship' ‘schemes' and ‘programmes' with much fanfare but inadequate financial resources, the government is trying to deceive the people. Besides, it wants to camouflage the fact that these ‘schemes' and ‘programmes' are not legal entitlements, they are not universal and can be withdrawn or suspended any time. Many of these are time bound with some of them being extended/ expanded/ curtailed or modified, depending not upon the needs of the people, but on other factors including the directions of the multilateral funding agencies like the World Bank, DFID etc. These ‘schemes' and ‘programmes' are structured and restructured according to the directions of these agencies. In the name of community participation, users' charges are being collected; privatisation is being resorted to in the name of public private participation.

On the other hand, the lakhs of workers, most of them women, who are employed in these ‘schemes' and ‘programmes' are not even recognised as workers. They are given fancy  and innovative names (reflecting the creativity of our bureaucracy) – ‘social workers', ‘activists', ‘friends', ‘guests', ‘yashodas', ‘mamathas' etc. By denying the status of workers, the government robs them of minimum wages, deprives them of job security and social security benefits. As per a rough estimate around one crore such workers are employed in the central government ‘schemes' and ‘programmes'.

Examination of some of the major flagship ‘schemes' of government of India, makes its deceitful and exploitative tactics clear.

The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme was started to address the serious problems of malnutrition among children and pregnant and lactating mothers and the high infant mortality rate in a holistic manner. Several studies by reputed agencies have acclaimed its contribution in bringing down infant mortality rate, increase immunisation rates and school enrolment and bringing down school drop out rates. A social audit conducted recently lauded the anganwadi employees, the grass root functionaries of ICDS for their commitment and dedication. But these services are not made permanent; ICDS continues as a ‘scheme' without adequate financial allocations. The anganwadi workers and helpers are called ‘social workers'; they get paltry ‘honorarium'; no minimum wages, no social security benefits for these 27 lakhs workers who play a most important role in the development of the children of our country, its future human resources.

Since 1975, the Planning Commission has been extending the ICDS, but the necessary budgetary allocations were never made. Despite the claim to have universalised ICDS by sanctioning 14 lakh anganwadi centres as per the Supreme Court orders, lakhs of posts of anganwadi workers and helpers and thousands of posts of supervisors and CDPOs have not been filled up. Around half of all anganwadi centres do not have pucca buildings; incidents of collapse of roofs and buildings have been reported leading to injuries and even death of children. Many do not have safe drinking water and toilet facilities and even enough space for the children.

Instead of improving this situation, the government, as per the recommendations of the World Bank, is going ahead with its ‘restructuring' in the form of handing it over to NGOs, panchayats and big corporate houses, all in the name of ‘community participation'. Introducing ‘cash transfers’ is being seriously considered, as per the World Bank’s recommendations.

Another flagship programme of the government of India is the ‘National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education' popularly called the Mid Day Meal Programme. The government claims it to be the ‘world's largest school feeding programme' reaching out to around 12 crores children in more than 12.65 lakh schools/ EGS centres across the country. This programme was meant to increase school enrolment and bring down the school drop out rates to improve literacy and promote education in our country. But the allotment for food per child is so low that it is impossible to provide the prescribed food items with this meagre allotment. More than 26 lakh workers are employed as cooks and helpers in the programme. But they are not recognised as workers. Until 2009 they were not paid any regular wages. Their ‘honorarium' was paid from the Rs 0.40 ps per child allotted towards ‘labour and other administrative charges'. In 2009, the government graciously sanctioned them Rs 1000 as ‘honorarium'. But even this is not paid in all states. In several states it is divided between the cook and the helper. They are paid only for 10 months in a year. They do not have any paid leaves, social security benefits or accident insurance. Now, the government is privatising the programme by handing over the distribution of food to big corporate NGOs like ISKON, Naandi Foundation etc, some of which have mechanised kitchens with the capacity to cook two lakh meals at a time.

The National Rural Health Mission, yet another flagship programme of government of India was started in 2005. This was started to address the unacceptably high incidence of maternal mortality which was mostly due to lack of proper health care for the pregnant women and the very low rates of institutional deliveries in the country, particularly in the rural areas. The period of the ‘mission' which was to conclude in 2012 was extended and recently the prime minister announced that it will be extended to the urban areas as well. Today more than 8.5 lakh women are employed in NRHM as ‘ASHAs' - Accredited Social Health Activists. These women are provided training and given a long list of responsibilities by the government. The experience since the initiation of NRHM shows remarkable increase in the incidence of institutional deliveries and decline in the maternal mortality ratio, which is even acknowledged by the prime minister in his Independence Day speech. But these ‘ASHAs' are paid only an ‘incentive' – piece rate wage depending upon the number of institutional deliveries they have promoted, the immunisation targets they have achieved etc. No need to say that they do not get any other benefits. They are often ill treated and harassed by the staff at the hospitals.

The increase in the number of institutional deliveries due to the hard work of ASHAs has necessitated increase in the number of staff in the hospitals to take care of the pregnant women and new born babies. However, instead of appointing nurses in adequate numbers, the government has come up with the idea of recruiting ‘Yashodas’ to take care of them. This ‘Yashoda Intervention’ has started in around 100 district hospitals in the four states of Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and is set to expand. In Bihar, these women are called ‘Mamathas’. The number of ‘Yashodas/ Mamathas’ to be recruited will depend upon the average number of deliveries in the hospital, they would work round the clock in shifts, perform all the duties now being performed by the nurses except handling of medicines, but will be ‘volunteers’ and paid a consolidated amount of Rs 3000 per month. Wiser with the experience of the anganwadi employees and others getting organised and putting forward their demands, the government contemplates changing 20 per cent of ‘Yashodas’ every three years.

Education is another area where the government has been resorting to the tactic of starting many programmes, schemes, campaigns etc during the last two decades – the District Primary Education Programme, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya scheme, National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level, the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan etc. But though funds are being allocated to some extent for construction of schools etc, no attention is paid to appointing regular teachers. According to the HRD ministry, 9, 07,951 teacher posts across the country were lying vacant in 2010-11. In nearly half of the primary schools and more than a third of upper primary schools the teacher student ratio is more than the prescribed 1:30.

Instead of appointing regular teachers, the governments in different states are recruiting what they call ‘para teachers', ‘siksha karmis', ‘siksha mitras', ‘vidya volunteers', ‘siksha sahayaks' etc. Around 25 per cent of teachers in most of the states and half in some are such ‘para teachers' who are paid a nominal consolidated pay and get no other benefits.

The dedication and commitment of these workers in discharging their responsibilities, despite the negligent attitude of the government has contributed to the improvement in several human development indicators of the country. It is widely acknowledged that the incidence of malnutrition, particularly of severe malnutrition has come down in the areas where anganwadi centres are located compared to the areas where no anganwadi centre exists. Similarly, in these areas, immunisation levels and school enrolment rates have significantly improved while school drop out rates have come down. Several studies have noted the contribution of the mid day meal programme in bringing children to the schools and ensuring that they do not drop out of school and the contribution of ASHAs in increasing the rate of institutional deliveries and thus significantly bringing down the unacceptably high maternal mortality ratio in the country. While the government has been claiming credit for the contribution of these 'schemes', the prime minister himself has commended their work in his Independence Day speech this year. But despite their huge and universally recognised contribution to the overall development of the future human resources of the country and to the human development, they are denied due recognition, and decent and dignified working and living conditions.

Besides the anganwadi employees, mid day meal workers, ASHAs, there are many more such central government schemes including the National Rural Livelihood Mission in which lakhs of workers, large number of them women are employed to organise self help groups, help them with bank linkages, maintenance of accounts, conduct their meetings etc; ATMA (Agricultural Technology Management Agency) employing around 3 lakh ‘Krishak Sathis' or ‘Rytu Mitras' etc, the National Small Savings scheme employing around 5 lakh small savings collectors, the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche scheme employing more than 63,000 workers.

Majority of these ‘scheme workers' are women. In the present society, cooking, feeding, taking care of the sick and the children in the family is considered to be the job of women. The government seeks to exploit this attitude to utilise their services for the society without any remuneration or with meagre ‘honorarium' in the name of ‘service' to society. The government, which should act as an ideal employer is, under the neoliberal regime, competing with the private employers in exploiting the workers.

Several state committees of the CITU have been organising the workers in different schemes like the anganwadi employees, mid day meal workers, ASHAs, workers in the National Rural Livelihood Mission, Krishak Sathis etc. These unions have been organising militant struggles on their demands. At the all India level, the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers, the all India coordination committees of mid day meal workers and ASHAs constituted by the CITU have made pioneering initiatives in leading the struggles of these employees, which contributed to some improvement in their conditions. But their basic demands are yet to be realised and the benefits are in jeopardy because of the government’s attempts to privatise and dismantle these ‘schemes’.  It is thus imperative to expose the policies of the government on a wider scale and mobilise wider sections of the people to protect the little benefits provided through these schemes and programmes.

It is to expose this dual policy – of deceiving the people in the name of flagship programmes and exploiting the workers by denying them the status of workers – that the CITU has decided to organise a country wide campaign culminating in a massive ‘mahapadav' on November 26.