Vol. XLIII No. 08 February 24, 2019

Anganwari call for Delhi March

A R Sindhu

ON the slogans of, no to direct cash transfer and no privatisation in ICDS; implement minimum wages of Rs 18,000 per month and pension of Rs 6,000 per month for anganwadi workers and helpers; regularise them as government employees; make anganwadis full time as anganwadi cum creches, the ALL India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) union has decided to march to parliament on February 25, 2019.

This march will be a culmination of consistent struggles in last five years for the rights of the children for nutrition, health and education. The march is a charge sheet against the BJP government that promised increase in the remuneration of anganwadi workers and helpers and strengthen ICDS but cheated them.

People even ask about the motive of the struggle in the background of the propaganda unleashed by Modi government saying that the remuneration of the workers, mini workers and helpers has increased by 50 percent in the finance minister’s budget speech.

First of all, there is no further increase in remuneration of anganwadi workers and helpers in the interim budget. What the finance minister mentioned was the announcement for increase of Rs 1,500 for workers, Rs 1,250 for mini workers and Rs 750 for helpers, made by the prime minister on September 11, 2018, under the pressure of the mazdoor kisan rally by CITU, AIKS and AIAWU.

But, here also the Modi government had cheated the anganwadi workers and helpers. The additional budgetary allocation necessary for the increase is Rs 4,259 crores per year, as per government press release in September. But the additional budget allocation for ‘anganwadi services’ in the budget 2019-20 is only Rs 1,944.18 crores (Rs 19,834.37 crore this year and Rs 17,890.19 crore last year). This is not even half of what is required to implement the increase.

This is the reason why in most states in the country, the increased remuneration which the PM promised as ‘diwali gift’ has not yet been paid.

The government has not only cheated the workers and helpers but also the beneficiaries. The government of India declared in September 2017 that it is going to increase the allocation for supplementary nutrition and is going to spent additional Rs 12,000 crore for three years, i.e., additional Rs 4,000 crore per year for nutrition. But neither the budget last year nor this year includes this allocation. In many states the nutrition is not being supplied since many months. 

The figure of Rs 27,584.37 crore for ICDS which the finance minister mentioned in the budget speech is misleading. It is yet another effort to misguide the employees as well as the public. In 2016-17, the government had put various schemes – scheme for adolescent girls, child protection scheme, national crèche scheme, maternity benefit scheme and poshan abhiyan(later) under “umbrella ICDS” and changed the name of the then ICDS to ‘anganwadi services’. This Rs 27,584.37 crore is the allocation for all six schemes. The allocation for anganwadi services is only Rs 19,834.37crore.

In the ‘poshan mission’, the annual budget of Rs 3,400 crore is totally for the administrative expenses for monitoring and convergence. Not a single paisa for the beneficiaries. At the same time, last year for the Prime Minsiter Matru Vandana Yojana, the budget allocation of Rs 2,400 crore has been cut down to Rs 1200 crore.

Modi government is the first government which had drastically cut down the allocation for ICDS to less than half in its first budget. It had closed down the planning commission and proposed to close down the centrally sponsored schemes. It is now spending only 60 percent of the expenses of the scheme; the rest is spent by the states, i.e., of the Rs 4,500 crore remuneration, central government is paying only Rs 2700 crore. It has been trying to privatise the ICDS. It has made an agreement with corporate Vedanta where half of the time in anganwadis will be spent on skill development of women in the area.

Now, the ministry is going ahead with the direct cash transfer in place of nutrition for the beneficiaries as per the direction of Niti Ayog. Pilot project has been proposed in UP and Rajasthan. This if implemented will dismantle the ICDS.

Many state governments have increased the remuneration and in many states anganwadi workers are getting more than Rs 10,000 a month. Then, why is this struggle at national level?

It is because of the militant and consistent struggles of our anganwadi unions led by AIFAWH and CITU, that we could get increase in remuneration and some other benefits in many states. But the government has to take a stand on the basic question of the recognition of anganwadi workers and helpers as government employees. There is no provision for pension or gratuity for them. The governments have to accept the recommendations of the 45th and  46th Indian labour conference on recognition, minimum wages and pension for scheme workers. There is no uniformity on the service conditions of the anganwadi employees throughout the country.

Apart from the demands of regularization, minimum wages and pension, so many other demands regarding ban on non ICDS extra work, full payment of mini workers and upgrading the mini centres to full centres, removal of age bar in promotion, issues of closure and merger of centres, including pre school education in right to education and making anganwadis as nodal agencies, making anganwadis full time anganwadi- cum crèches etc are pending since long.

As we know, the struggles of anganwadi workers and helpers in the past had pressurized all political parties to promise an increase in remuneration to anganwadi workers. We have to build the pressure this time to force all the political parties to take a stand on the recommendations of 45th ILC. We have to put the issue of the rights of the anganwadi workers and helpers and the rights of the children of our country for nutrition, health and education in the national agenda of our country.

We are bringing to Delhi nearly one crore signatures from all over the country demanding better infrastructure and services in anganwadis and implementation of  45th ILC recommendations and to stop the move for direct cash transfer in ICDS. We will submit it to the ministry.