October 30, 2022

Scheme Workers Convention

A R Sindhu

AT the All India Convention of Scheme Workers on ‘Right to Food, Health, Education and Labour Rights’ held on October 19, at BT Ranadive Bhawan in New Delhi, the  Anganwadi, ASHA and Mid-day Meal Workers charted their next phase of independent and joint struggles. This convention was held in the background of the alarming levels of hunger and malnutrition in India.

The convention organised by the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH), ASHA Workers and Facilitators Federation of India (AWFFI)and Mid-day Meal Workers Federation of India (MDMWFI) was attended by anganwadi, ASHA and MDM workers from all over India.

Veena Gupta, secretary AIFAWH and AWFFI welcomed the participants and the presidium consisting of Usharani, Prema, presidents of AIFAWH and AWFFI and Himi Thakur, from MDMWFI conducted the proceedings of the convention. The convention was inaugurated by Tapan Sen, CITU general secretary. He explained how the BJP government is frantically pursuing the neoliberal policies and is handing over the national assets to the corporates on a platter. He spoke about the growing resistance by the working class and the peasantry and emphasized the important role of the scheme workers in the trade union movement, not only as a militant fighting force for their own rights but also their role in mobilising various sections of the people against the anti-people policies. The draft resolution was placed by Surekha, secretary, AWFFI and CITU state president of Haryana.

The resolution expressed concern over the worsening situation of increasing malnutrition and hunger and lack of public health services. India has slipped six points in 2022 from the previous year in the global hunger index this year to attain 107th position in a total 121 countries. The resolution explained the important contributions of the basic services schemes – ICDS, NHM and MDMS in improving nutrition, health and education of people in the country and how the governments instead of making them permanent, are in fact weakening them. The government of India is the biggest exploiter of labour that is denying labour rights to nearly one crore scheme workers who are delivering basic services to the doorsteps of the entire population.

The resolution explained how the government of India is moving step by step towards privatising these schemes. During the lockdown, in the 2021-22 budget, the Modi government has cut down the budget allocations for ICDS by 30 per cent. With substantial increase in cooking gas prices, skyrocketing price rise, the quality of nutrition was already being affected. ICDS is being dismantled with policies like targeting the beneficiaries through mandatory aadhar linking, corporate involvement in supplementary nutrition and pre-school education. Similar is the case with NHM and MDMS and other basic services schemes. Budgetary cuts, targeting and privatisation efforts are going on for dismantling the schemes.

Usharani, Veena Gupta and Jaibhagwan spoke in support of the resolution, on behalf of AIFAWH, AWFFI and MDMWI respectively. Anganwadi, ASHA and MDM union leaders from various states spoke on the resolution. Shocking information on various BJP governments’ efforts to withdraw from responsibility as well as efforts to communalise the schemes came out in the deliberations.

The BJP government of Madhya Pradesh has ordered ‘Poshan Matka’ scheme in anganwadis in which every anganwadi worker will have to keep five ‘matkas’ (earthen pots) in anganwadi centres and every month will collect five quintals of food grains as donation from the villagers! Out of this, three quintals of food grains must be sold out and with the money she should purchase items like ghee, sugar/jiggery etc and prepare laddoos! In September 2022, in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, the WCD department directed the anganwadi workers and helpers to attend ‘Shiv Mahapuran Katha’ in the district! A few months ago, the Uttarakhand WCD minister directed the anganwadi workers to offer water in the nearest Shiva temples to ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (Save the girl child and educate her) campaign! These are a few models of ‘innovativeways of addressing malnutrition by the BJP governments!

The prime minister of India, in his ‘Mann ki Baat’, telecasted immediately after the 75th Independence Day praised the innovation of Madhya Pradesh government which is using ‘bhajans’ (devotional songs) to reduce malnutrition!

The need of the hour is to strengthen the ICDS, Mid-day Meal Scheme, health services including NHM and provide all basic amenities including drinking water to the people of the country, to address the basic necessities of the people and also to combat the national shame of hunger and malnutrition. The convention reiterated the following basic demands:

1. Basic entitlement schemes like the ICDS, NHM and MDMS to be universalised and made permanent. Quality services to be provided by ensuring adequate budgetary allocations.

2. All scheme workers must be regularised. Pending regularisation, as per the 45th ILC recommendations, scheme workers must be paid minimum wages of not less than Rs 26,000 per month; Provide all social security measures ncluding pension of Rs 6000 per month, provident fund, ESI, gratuity etc.

3. There should be uniform service rules for different categories of scheme workers in all the states.

4. Stop NGO-isation and privatisation of the schemes. Withdraw NEP -2020 and National Digital Health Mission (NDHM).

5. Withdraw the four labour codes. Include scheme workers under labour laws.

The convention also reiterated the charter of demands of AIFAWH, AWFFI and MDMWFI. The convention declared launching of massive campaign throughout the country on the basis of these demands, involving the beneficiaries.

The convention adopted the following programmes of action:

  1. Joint meetings of Anganwadi, ASHA and MDM unions at state level before the first week of November 2022
  1. Independent actions of Anganwadi workers and helpers on November 14; ASHA workers on December 10 and Mid-day Meal Workers on  December 11.
  1. Joint Jawab Mango Abhiyan (accountability campaign) in December 2022 asking for report card on people’s issues from the members of parliament. Joint conventions involving beneficiaries and intellectuals etc to be organised in each parliamentary constituency.
  1. The campaign to culminate in Joint All India Protest Day by scheme workers on January 6, 2023 by organising massive mobilisations including march to MP’s offices.
  1. Massive mobilisation of scheme workers in the Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally 2.0 in the budget session of parliament, by CITU, AIKS and AIAWU

It is also decided to distribute a minimum of ten lakh leaflets among the scheme workers and beneficiaries throughout the country. The convention appealed to the scheme workers irrespective of their affiliations and the beneficiaries to make this movement successful.