Anganwadi Workers & Helpers Hold a Huge March to Parliament
A R Sindhu
Federations meet finance minister demanding increased allocation for ICDS in the union budget and minimum wages and pension; Warn the Government of Protest Week from March 1, 2016
TENS of thousands of Anganwadi workers and helpers from every nook and corner of the country poured into Delhi and marched to parliament demanding with one voice “SAVE ICDS” by making necessary financial provisions in the budget to strengthen the scheme for the future of young India. The biggest ever national mobilisation of women workers in the capital, significantly a single sector of workers, approximately numbering fifty thousand from all states and union territories gathered in protest in Delhi on February 15, 2016 under the banner of Samyukta Morcha of Anganwadi Employees’ Federations, a joint platform of anganwadi federations affiliated to Central Trade Unions: AICCTU, AITUC, AIUTUC, CITU, HMS and INTUC.
As the world knows, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme provides nutrition and healthcare to eight crore children and two crore pregnant women and lactating mothers in our country. Half of the under-six children are malnourished and eighty percent of the women anaemic. It was assessed by nutritional experts and child rights activists that the scheme which is supposed to provide the services under Right to Food Act needs a minimum of Rs 3 lakh crores during the 12th plan period. But the plan allocation was mere Rs 1.23 lakh cores. Accordingly, the allocation for the year 2015–16 should have been Rs 26,533 crores. Ironically, the Modi government which promised ‘ache din’ and ‘strengthening ICDS’ and ‘improving the working condition of anganwadi workers and helpers’ had cut down the allocation for ICDS in the union budget 2015-16 from Rs 18,108 crores the previous year to a paltry of Rs 8245.77 crores for the year 2015-2016. A small increase was subsequently made in the supplementary grant which is also inadequate.
Twenty seven lakh anganwadi workers and helpers who are the grass root level functionaries of the scheme are not recognised as workers even. The 45th session of Indian Labour Conference has recommended that anganwadi workers and helpers, as the other scheme workers, should be recognised as ‘workers’, provided minimum wages and pension and other social security benefits. Various statutory committees and studies by various government agencies like the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women, NITI Ayog etc have recommended adequate allocations for ICDS and an improved wages and pension for the employees. But at present, the remuneration of Rs 3000 for anganwadi workers and Rs 1500 for helpers per month, paid by the government of India, is less than half the minimum wage declared by the governments for similar jobs. Although they are now made to work full day, the remuneration has not been increased since 2011 and considering the price rise and inflation, the actual wage has come down. The government has earlier assured provision of pension and other social security benefits to those anganwadi workers and helpers who were being ‘retired’ on attaining 58-60 years. In spite of these, the drastic budget cut was made by the Modi government.
After the budget, the department related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development in its 268th Report on Demands for grants 2015-16 (Demand No 108) of the ministry of WCD placed in the parliament on April 28, 2015 has also expressed serious concerns on the cut in total allocation and the poor working condition of the frontline workers.
The lack of funds has already started affecting the scheme. Supplementary nutrition has been stopped in many parts of the country. Besides, the employees are not paid their remuneration for months together. The lack of funds is often cited as the reason for the non-payment of remuneration, rent, etc. With the existing budget allocation cut to half, it has become a mystery how the government proposes to meet the present benefits provided through ICDS, not to talk of ‘strengthening’ it as per the ICDS Mission objectives. In the name of lack of funds, privatisation of the scheme in various forms is being persuaded by many states. The MWCD itself has signed an MoU with the corporate Cairn India (Vedanta subsidiary), an alleged income tax defaulter for building the anganwadi centres. The Vedanta officials issued statement that half of the time of anganwadi centres will be used for skill development of rural women. This will badly affect the services in anganwadi centres and will sabotage the very purpose of the ICDS.
In this background, a National Convention was organised by the Samyukta Morcha on November 5 2015, which give a call for March to Parliament on February 15, 2016. Countrywide campaign and local level protests and struggles were organised independently and jointly by various trade union federations. The response was tremendous. The consciousness on the link between the policies of the government and their problems is slowly building up among the anganwadi employees.
On February 15, in the Parliament Street, the space between the Police Station and the signal was half filled by nine o’clock in the morning which overflowed to Jantar Mantar and nearby side roads by around 11 o’clock. Marching in procession with flags, banners and badges of various colours, wearing dresses showcasing the diversity of India and shouting slogans in different languages but with one purpose, the mobilisation became an important event in the history of the trade union movement in India.
Usha Rani, president AIFAWH from (CITU), Usha Saini from AITUC, Shalini from HMS an Achintya Sinha from AIUTUC were in the presidium. Dr B V Vijayalakshmi welcomed the gathering. A R Sindhu, general secretary AIFAWH (CITU), Dr B V Vijayalakshmi (AITUC), Kamalesh Chahal (AIUTUC) and Uma Netam (AICCTU), Neelam Pandey (HMS) addressed the gathering on behalf of the anganwadi federations.
Sashi Yadav from AICCTU, Amarjeet Kaur from AITUC, Achintya Sinha from AIUTUC, M A Patil from HMS greeted the gathering on behalf of the Central Trade Unions. Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU and member of parliament addressed the gathering and called upon them to intensify the struggles to change the policies. D Raja, MP extended full support to the gathering. The rally was concluded by A R Sindhu declaring the future call of action. The Samyukta Morcha called upon the anganwadi workers and helpers of the country to observe “protest week” starting on March 1, 2016 by organising rallies dharnas, demonstrations etc in every village and block in the country, in case the budget does not meet the demands.
Later a delegation met finance minister Arun Jaitley and submitted a memorandum on their demands. The delegation led by Tapan Sen and D Raja consisted of A R Sindhu (CITU), B V Vijayalakshmi (AITUC), Sashi Yadav, Rajeev Dimri (AICCTU), M A Patil (HMS) and Kamalesh Chahal (AIUTUC). The finance minister said that the government wants to spend on schemes like ICDS and agreed that the remunerations paid to them is too little. He told the delegation that he will try to increase the allocation and the honorarium in the budget.
1. Budget Allocation for ICDS to be increased to minimum of Rs 36,000 crores to ensure proper infrastructure, good quality nutritional food and decent living condition to the employees.
2. No privatisation of ICDS in any form. No handing over of ICDS to corporates like Vedanta and NGOs like ISKCON
3. Anganwadi workers and helpers must be regularised as Class III and Class IV government employees respectively. Pending regularisation they should be paid minimum wages not less than Rs 18,000 per month along with DA and a pension of minimum of Rs 3000 linked with VDA to the retirees who served their whole life for the noble cause.
4. Immediate implementation of the 45th ILC recommendations for scheme workers