IN the context of the ongoing efforts by the NDA government to dismantle and privatise the basic delivery systems in the social sector, the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH), Mid Day Meal Workers Federation of India (MDMWFI), and All India Coordination Committee of Asha Workers (AICCAW) jointly held a national convention on “The right to food, health, education and care, the government, centrally sponsored schemes and beyond” on September 17 in New Delhi.
Inaugurating the convention, Prof. Prabhat Patnaik said the total cost for providing universal entitlements for five basic rights to food, employment, free quality healthcare, free quality education, old age pension and benefits to the disabled, will be only 8-10 per cent of the GDP in India. Governments can easily do this by taxing the rich but they are not ready to act for the majority of the people, and instead are following policies to benefit the top one per cent of the population.
The convention which started with the welcome address by Anju Maini, treasurer AIFAWH, was presided over by A R Sindhu, general secretary, AIFAWH, secretary CITU, Monika Dutta Roy, vice president MDMWFI and Ranjana Nirula, convenor, AICCAW.
The declaration was placed by A R Sindhu. The problems of implementation of these schemes and the working conditions of the workers in their respective schemes were presented by Usharani, president AIFAWH and secretary CITU, Jai Bhagwan, general secretary MDMWFI and Surekha, AICCAW.
Different expert panelists responded to these presentations, linking up the issues with government policies. Dr Amit Sengupta, co-convenor of the Jana Swasthya Abhiyan, explained the health sector polices and said that only the assertion of these women workers at the bottom of the hierarchy can challenge and break the ‘brahmanwad’ in the society and the system. Devika Singh of the Mobile Crèches spoke about the importance of protecting the rights of the children for the society and the fight of the scheme workers to be linked to the fight for the rights of the children. Dr Rajni Palriwala explained the caste, gender and social exploitation linked to the exploitation of the scheme workers and how their fight challenges the present social order. She emphasised that the movement must be conscious and alert against the divisive forces within the movement and to fight against all kinds of discrimination at their workplace as well. Dipa Sinha from the Right to Food Campaign explained how various governments, despite the Supreme Court order and the law, try to dismantle the schemes and go ahead with privatisation. She emphasised on the importance of coordinating with the community and taking it into confidence for the success of the struggles. Indranil Mukherjee, economic researcher, explained that in India, government spending on basic services is very low and every year 5.5 crore people are pushed below the poverty line because of their spending for health care which is largely privatised. He said while the government is ready to spend Rs 1,11,000 crore for the bullet train which will be used by a maximum of a few lakh people throughout the year, it will cost only Rs 1,08,000 crores to provide minimum wages to 60 lakh scheme workers.
President of AIAWU A Thirunavukkarasu narrated the conditions of the agricultural workers in the country and their struggles and expressed solidarity with the struggles of the scheme workers. Mayookh Biswas, joint secretary of SFI, expressed solidarity, explained the privatisation of education and continuously decreasing purchasing power of the people and the unemployment in the country. Asha Mishra, coordinator of the BGVS, explained their campaigns and programmes on the people’s rights for the basic services and their slogan to ‘access, quality and equity’. She explained the AIPSN’s call to the scheme worker’s organisations to join the people’s movement’s mobilisation in the last week of November in Bhopal. M L Malkotia, treasurer of CITU, explained the CITU’s consistent efforts to organise the scheme workers and the fight for their recognition which resulted in the recommendations of the 45th ILC, which were reiterated in 46th ILC. He called upon them to reach the unreached and expose the policies behind the issues to the people. Maimoona Mollah, joint secretary of AIDWA, said that as the beneficiaries of these schemes the women’s movement and AIDWA will support and fight for the cause of the scheme workers and for strengthening these schemes. CWDS, Forces and HRLN also expressed solidarity with the cause of the scheme workers.
The convention decided to
· Involve the beneficiaries and broader sections of people in the struggle to save the basic government schemes for the people’s right to food, health, nutrition and care
· Approach people’s representatives and ministers jointly on the demands
· Mobilise the scheme workers in large numbers in the three days mass dharna before Parliament from November 9-11 called by the central trade unions and independent federations of employees
· Join the call by the Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar manch, the joint platform of Left, democratic and secular class, mass and social organisations and individuals
The convention, which was attended by the national working committee members of AIFAWH and MDMWFI and the leaders of the ASHA Workers’ unions from Hindi speaking states, called upon the scheme workers to intensify the campaign and struggles in case the government is not ready to stop privatisation and accept the demands of adequate budget allocations, recognition as workers, minimum wages, pension and social security to the workers. It decided to organise the widest possible campaign among the people for the rights for food, health, education and care and stressed on the need to strengthen the ICDS, MDMS and NHM.