People's Democracy

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


No. 48

December 02, 2012



Scheme Workers Subsidise

State Social Welfare Programmes


Archana Prasad


ON November 26-27, 2012 the CITU organised a two day sit-in at Jantar Mantar of the scheme workers, mostly women, who work in the flagship central government schemes. These “scheme workers” as they are now known, provide the bulwark of State run programmes that address the problems of malnutrition, primary health care, child care, pre school and primary education within the country. The government claims that it is reinventing and augmenting these programmes in order to strengthen the social infrastructure in the country. In the budget of the 2011-2012, it claimed to have increased the Integrated Child Development Programme allocation by 58 per cent and the National Rural Health Mission budget by about 50 per cent. In the same manner the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan budget went up by 21.7 per cent and the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Scheme by 28 per cent. Yet the share of these workers and their welfare forms a miniscule part of these allocations and are often ignored in the planning and implementation of these programmes. Rather, work of these women is presented as a social service and a contribution to the development of the future of the nation. The experiences of the women workers not only provide credence to this fact, but also show that health and education programmes are being run by people who can not aspire for a decent life for themselves unless they fight their own battles against a neo-liberal State. The ‘mahapadav’ of the scheme workers was a historic moment in this ongoing struggle.




Current allocations and the honorarium structure of the mid-day-meal, and anganwadi programmes shows that women’s work is meant to subsidise schemes from whom the State is fast withdrawing its own funding. For example the honorarium paid to a mid-day-meal worker is meant to be Rs 1000 per month. If there are an estimated 27 lakh mid-day-meal workers in this programme then the honorarium constitutes only 2.26 per cent of the current allocation. The government argues that preparing a mid-day-meal is a part time job of about two hours a day, but the experience of the women shows that the work that they do in the school is much more than the estimated number of hours. For example Urmila Chowdhry, a mid-day-meal worker in Basti district of Uttar Pradesh since 2004 says that she and her two colleagues work for six hours a day and cook hot meals for 175 children in the school. They get paid Rs 1000 per month and are at the mercy of the school headmaster for getting this meagre payment. But she is not alone in her misery. Her fellow mid-day-meal worker from Jamalgarh, Haryana has not got paid this Rs 1000 per month for the last three years as the headmaster refused to make her salary bill for payment. They too work from 8 am to 2:30 pm daily. Saroj, president of the mid-day-meal workers’ association in Haryana challenges the minister of women and child welfare of Haryana to come and finish the work of a mid-day-meal worker in two hours. These examples show that the work of the mid-day-meal worker has not only been under-valued but also underestimated.


The same situation is also true of the ICDS or anganwadi worker and helper. There are an estimated 11.71 lakh anganwadi workers and 10.27 lakh helpers who are meant to get Rs 3000 and Rs 1500 per month under the central scheme or about 31 per cent of the budgetary allocation. But honorarium is only for the care of children of 0-3 years. In states like Tamilnadu, the ICDS worker also has to work amongst 2-6 year old children giving them both nutrition and schooling. As S Janaki, president of the Tamilnadu anganwadi union explains, they do the work of both the central and the state government and get paid low wages of Rs 6800 per month from the state government. The central government grant of Rs 3000 per month is hardly ever transferred to them. This undervaluation of work is even starker in the case of ASHA workers who are meant to be ‘community workers’ and are only meant to receive incentives for their work. But as narratives of ASHA workers reveal most of them are performing round the clock operations for maternal and patient care. Santha, Preetha and Rajni are ASHA workers in Kerala who provide palliative care to patients and provide basic services to pregnant women. They do the work of a primary health worker without a regular salary. Rather there is an incentive system where they are paid on the basis of their performance. For example Nilesh Vanchika, an ASHA from Nanded village, Bhopal is paid about Rs 350 per institutional delivery facilitated by her, but she may spend 2-3 days with that woman. There is no time for her work, she is on call for 24 hours a day, and she has to make 6-7 trips to the PHC for getting her payment. These are only a few instances that show that the ASHA workers are performing important para-medic roles without getting the benefits of a regular wage.


A similar scenario exists for the National Child Labour Prevention project staff in different states. Kalpana Ghimre Taide is a graduate from Jalgaon district (Maharashtra) and has been working in the NCLP for Rs 4000 per month for the last 15-16 years. She explains that the work under this project entails both classroom teaching and field work. They have to go to the houses of the child labourers and bring them to school, thus ensuring that their parents do not send them to work. In other places such teachers teach for four days in the classrooms and go to the field for two days. Sushila Jatav from Bardhaman (West Bengal) feels that women workers leave their own children to fend for themselves and do not even get proper wages. Most of these low paid workers are women whose husbands have no regular employment. Sushila says “we are doing a social service for the society, but can we do social service on an empty stomach”. This is telling in the light of the fact that many workers have not received their salaries for 19 months in states like Rajasthan.


The situation of the para teachers of the Sarva Shiksha Mission is only slightly better than this, where the teachers are now required to have graduation and B.Ed to teach children from classes I-V. Madhulika Banerjee, general secretary of the para teachers association in Bengal explains that that they do the same work as any other school teacher, but the conditions of their work are totally different. Apart from the classrooms these teachers are also expected to go to the field for two days and enrol students and prevent drop outs. Their salary is about Rs 7426 per month for upper primary teachers and Rs 5400 per month for primary teachers. But this is largely because of the efforts of the Left front government. In other states the para teacher may also be getting Rs 3000 to Rs 5000 per month. The salary of a regular teacher is four times as much. She concludes “we have the same qualifications and work as regular teachers, but we are exploited”.




Thus we see that crucial social services are being run by under valued workers with the State using them as cheap labour. Consequently, like other workers in the unorganised sector, these workers too face periodic threats to their employment and get no assistance in case of accidents or other medical emergencies. For example there are no designated spaces for anganwadi centres in Haryana and the worker has to often find a place for the centre. In such a situation the centres themselves are quite dilapidated leaving both worker and the children at risk. Santosh Rawal, general secretary of Anganwadi Union, Haryana gives one such instance when she tells of a centre in Jhajjhar where the roof collapsed. Children got hurt and the worker and her helper were dismissed from their jobs. In the light of such instances their union is now demanding designated and proper spaces for centres.


But it is not merely the extra work, but the indignity of the way in which the scheme workers are treated which angers them the most. As Nilesh Vanchika, an ASHA worker from Madhya Pradesh says, the doctors and the nurses both talk to us badly. There are also some cases where they have been physically assaulted and prevented from entering the PHCs. She also shares an instance where an ambulance driver has physically abused the ASHA. Roshni, president of Haryana ASHA workers tells of the times when they have to use their own dupattas and saris to protect the dignity of patients in overcrowded PHCs. There are cases of mid-day-meal workers who have lost their jobs because they got burnt while making food. They also get harassed by teachers and headmasters who may treat them as their personal domestic servants. For example, Urmila Chowdhry tells of the time when they have had to even do the work of safia karamcharis or lose their jobs. Many experiences also recount how teachers make mid-day-meal cook their own food and do extra work. If they refuse to do this they are asked not to come to work the next day. Says Saroj of Haryana “the teachers get Rs 40,000 per month as their salary, can’t they get their own food cooked”? These are only some instances of the insecurities that are faced by these women workers. As is evident, these workers cannot afford to fall ill or take leave to rest if they want to keep their own hearths burning.


Thus we see that the scheme workers constitute the unorganised labour force that subsidises the government through its socially important and productive, but, cheap labour in these neo-liberal times. In this situation their demands for seeking the status as ‘workers’, regularisation of their services and for minimum wages of Rs 10,000 with social security benefits are crucial in the larger mobilisation against economic reforms. It is also a fight for the dignity of workers who mould the future of the nation by being the edifice of its social infrastructure.