November 23, 2014

March to Parliament to Save ICDS, for Rights of Anganwadi Employees

FIFTY thousand anganwadi workers and helpers in red uniform, under the banner of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH), will march to Parliament on November 21. They will carry a memorandum to the Prime Minister, with four crore signatures on it, demanding no privatisation of ICDS in any form including handing over to NGOs, Corporates, Self Help Groups, etc.; making adequate financial allocations for ICDS; improving infrastructure in anganwadi centres; and regularising all anganwadi workers and helpers, and providing them minimum wages and social security benefits. The anganwadi employees have held many struggles including marches to Parliament in the past under the leadership of AIFAWH. Apart from being the biggest mobilisation with the largest support of the general public and the first one after the NDA government took office, what makes this Parliament march important is that after almost 40 years of its effective existence, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme is now facing the biggest challenge even for its existence. The erstwhile Congress-led UPA government, at the direction of World Bank, started privatisation of ICDS and launched ‘ICDS Mission’. The Modi government is not only vigorously implementing all those anti-people policies but has also gone one step ahead with declaration of the winding up of the Planning Commission and all the welfare schemes. Mission to Dismantle The “ICDS Mission” is in effect a mission to dismantle the ICDS through backdoor privatisation. Whereas we are demanding the institutionalisation of ICDS from a ‘Scheme’ to a department, the government is making it further short term, a “Mission” once it has achieved the target, can be wound up. The ICDS in states will be registered as societies, which is easy to dissolve. In the ‘Mission’ it is mandatory to hand over 10 percent of the anganwadi centres to NGOs and private companies. In many states like Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Anganwadi centres have been handed over to companies like JP and Vedanta. In Assam and Karnataka, ISKCON Akhayapatra is running large centralised kitchens for anganwadis. This is the effort to divert the public money into private hands. In Uttar Pradesh, the entire supply of the supplementary nutrition is privatised and handed over to private agencies and corporate NGOs. This is another proposal for the Mission. In the name of community participation, workers are asked to collect materials from the community for anganwadi centres. In Himachal Pradesh, only nine months’ Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) is provided and the workers are supposed to ‘mobilise’ from the ‘community’ the rest. In the ‘Mission’, the funds of ICDS for the pre-school component can be given to the private nursery schools. This proposal is coming at a time when we are demanding that the pre-primary education must be given through anganwadis only. The timing of the anganwadi centres has been increased to six hours and more. Without any increase in the remuneration, now the anganwadi workers and helpers work for same time as of the school staff. Five percent centres will be converted into Anganwadi-cum-crèches, but there is no increase in the remuneration of the workers and helpers. The timing of each of the employee in the crèche will have to be ‘adjusted’ in such a way not to exceed six hours. All the new appointments of the Mission will be on contract basis. All the workers and helpers above 65 years are to be retired. But there is no mention of any retirement benefits. Training, monitoring, etc. have already been privatised in many states. NGOs and other agencies have already started threatening anganwadi workers and helpers in the name of ‘monitoring’, ‘community participation’, ‘capacity building, etc. In many states, it is reported that they have started putting cameras in anganwadi centres to monitor the workers and helpers! Many state governments have already started appointing extra workers/link workers in anganwadi centres giving the reason that since the anganwadi worker is overloaded with many responsibilities, for effective functioning of the centre one more worker is required. First of all, the ‘overload’ is the non-ICDS works dumped on the anganwadi workers. Most of the works allocated to the extra worker is duplication. If the anganwadi centres are converted into full time centres with full time anganwadi worker and helper with all statutory benefits and no non-ICDS responsibilities we can have an effective anganwadi centre. The government instead of making the existing workforce permanent with all the benefits is adding casual contract workers with no benefits. AIFAWH has given a call to boycott all non-ICDS works by the anganwadi workers. While all directions for privatisation are being implemented with high speed, the orders for increased allocation for the rent of the centre, contingency, pre-school kit, medical kit, uniform, etc. are not being implemented at all. We demand immediate implementation of the increased allocations. AIFAWH demands no privatisation of ICDS in any form, increased allocation for infrastructure and other facilities in anganwadi centres, proper allocation for good quality food, and full time anganwadi centres with full-time workers and helpers with all statutory benefits as employees. Recommendations of 45th Indian Labour Conference The continuous struggles of the anganwadi employees and the effective leadership and support of the central trade unions under the leadership of CITU have resulted in the recommendations of the 45th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) that the employees working in various government schemes, including the anganwadi workers and helpers, must be recognised as employees, must be given minimum wages and pension. Both the Congress which led the earlier government and the BJP which is leading the present government is keeping mum on this crucial question. The BJP government is changing the labour laws in such a way to restrict all the activities of the unions. With no minimum wages and pension even after 38 years of service and no other social security benefits, the anganwadi works and helpers are treated as bonded labours by the government. The militant struggles of anganwadi workers and helpers under the leadership of AIFAWH could get some benefits, including the present remuneration and other benefits such as maternity leave, some social security benefits, etc. from the central government as well as the state governments. Due to the continuous efforts of AIFAWH, anganwadi employees are realizing that along with own demands, it is time to intensify the struggles to ‘Save ICDS’ itself. India has 15.8 crore children under the age of 6 years. 48 percent of them are under-nourished, which is 42 percent of the world’s total undernourished children. 78 percent of them are anemic. 85 lakh children die at birth every year in our country. Now, after 65 years of independence, we are raising a basic question, is it a right of our children to have food to eat? Is it their right to have education and healthcare? Or shall we leave our future to the mercy of some ‘big’, ’good’ people and corporate companies who may or may not help some of the ‘poor’ to eat food through some of their ‘charity’ programmes which fund the ICDS? AIFAWH, along with CITU, has taken the initiative to build a movement of the people to ‘Save ICDS’, since 2005. Along with the beneficiaries organisations, the Centre of Indian Trade unions (CITU), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) and All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) have collected nearly four crore signatures from the people of the country on a memorandum to the Prime Minister with the following demands: 1. No privatisation of ICDS in any form including handing over to NGOs, Corporates, Self Help Groups, etc., 2. Make adequate financial allocations for ICDS, 3. Improve infrastructure in anganwadi centres, and 4. Regularise all anganwadi workers and helpers, provide them minimum wages and social security benefits. To submit this memorandum to the Prime Minister, AIFAWH is mobilising more than fifty thousand anganwadi workers and helpers in Delhi to March to Parliament on November 21. On the same day, there will be local level demonstrations across the country. (EOM)