June 20, 2021

AIFAWH Demands Safety of Frontline Workers Fighting Covid-19

THE All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) has demanded urgent intervention from the government to ensure the safety of anganwadi workers and ASHAs, the frontline workers who have been losing lives in combating Covid-19 in the country.

Gearing up to organise a militant protest on July 10 along with other Central Trade Unions, the AIFAWH reminded that during the first wave of the pandemic in India, as many as six anganwadi workers died due to Covid-19 in Karnataka, and in the second wave, between the third week of April and the third week of May, 22 anganwadi workers died. In Uttar Pradesh, 74 anganwadi workers have lost their lives to Covid-19 by the third week of May.

Around 35 lakh anganwadi and ASHA workers, the backbone of the country in its fight against the biggest challenge – the Covid-19 pandemic – perform Covid surveys going door to door, take people for Covid tests, give primary medical guidance to the patients, monitor their temperature and oxygen levels etc., in addition to the vaccination duties given by the district administration. These frontline workers are even denied leave and are made to work for upto 16 hours a day.

Even though the anganwadi workers are part of the ward -level committees and have a vital role in identification and treatment of Covid-19 patients, they are not given any protective gear including the masks or sanitizers in most of the states. As a result, hundreds of workers are getting infected by Covid-19 and there is an alarming rise in Covid deaths among these workers.

It is to be noted that there is no provision for any risk allowance, payment of hospital expenses or compensation for the loss of their lives. Shockingly, in many states, they are not notified as frontline workers and are not entitled to the coverage under the life insurance scheme for Rs 50 lakh as announced by the government of India. As a result, most of the families of the deceased workers did not receive any compensation.

Many anganwadi and ASHA workers are dying due to lack of proper treatment and due to failure of detection of Covid as most of the cases in the second wave were asymptomatic. Since postmortem examination is not performed, the deaths are not even recognised as Covid deaths and compensation is not being given.

In addition to the Covid duty, the anganwadi workers and helpers have to do the regular duties of running the anganwadi centres, distributing supplementary nutrition etc. Now, the anganwadi workers are also asked to report their work online on a mobile application, Poshan Tracker. But they are not provided mobile phones, nor are they paid for mobile data ensuring network coverage. The app also denies service to the beneficiaries who do not have a mobile connection. The anganwadi workers and helpers are under the threat of a total wage cut as per the order of the Women and Child Development Ministry (WCD), for not complying with the requirements, for no fault of theirs.

Even during this period of lockdown, anganwadi workers were forced by the department to make ‘nutri-gardens’ at anganwadi centres, common lands as well as in the homes of the beneficiaries. Most of the anganwadi centres do not have any land and majority of the beneficiaries of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) are landless. It is to be noted that vegetable cultivation is impossible for the anganwadi workers or helpers after performing their primary duties in addition to the Covid duties given by the district administration.

In addition to these issues, it is also known that most of the states had started merging the anganwadi centres and attaching them to the primary schools and school education system, in the name of New Education Policy. This is affecting basic services of the anganwadi centres and is being done without specific guidelines from the Ministry of WCD. This move is against the basic concept of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE).

During the pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown and job losses, an additional nine lakh children have been added to the category of severely malnourished. The UNICEF has warned that an additional three lakh children will die due to malnutrition in the coming six months.  It is of utmost importance to ensure providing adequate quantity of supplementary nutrition to the beneficiaries. But in the budget 2021-22, the Modi government has cut down the allocation to ICDS by 30 per cent.

In spite of repeated representations, the government is not ready to address any of these issues following which, as per the call of the AIFAWH, hundreds of anganwadi workers and helpers observed protest day on June 11, after a ten-day campaign. Memoranda were submitted to the prime minister through members of parliament as well as sub-divisional magistrates. The protest programme was organised in 20 states including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh , Uttarakhand and West Bengal.

AIFAWH demanded the government to ensure the safety of anganwadi workers and helpers engaged in Covid19-related duty. It demanded adequate PPE kits, masks, gloves, soaps and sanitisers to all and to ensure that all the workers are vaccinated. It also sought random Covid-19 testing for all frontline workers on duty and free treatment for frontline workers.

AIFAWH demanded the inclusion of all anganwadi workers and helpers on Covid duty, in the Life Insurance scheme for coverage of Rs 50 lakhs and immediate payment of Rs 50 lakhs to the families of all those who had died during the Covid duty (irrespective of certificates). It also demanded a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for infection and a risk allowance of Rs 10,000 per month along with extra pay for extra work.

AIFAWH demanded that the supplementary nutrition must be given as food items (food grains, pulses, oil, jaggery, dry fruits, eggs etc) in adequate quantity, for all the beneficiaries for the next six months and adequate budget for implementation. It demanded that the nutri-gardens should not be the responsibility of anganwadi workers or helpers.

It demanded that all pending wages and allowances of anganwadi workers and helpers must be released immediately (as in many states, wages etc., for the last two-six months are pending) and regular payment of wages must be ensured.

AIFAWH demanded that the wages of anganwadi workers and helpers and allocation for nutrition of beneficiaries should not be linked to the ‘Poshan Tracker’ app without ensuring adequate infrastructure before digitisation of ICDS.

It opposed the merger of anganwadis or merger with schools and demanded to strengthen ICDS and implement ECCE policy. It also demanded that ICDS should be made permanent and anganwadi workers be regularised with minimum wages of  Rs 21,000 per month and pension as per the recommendation of 45th ILC.