Anganwadi workers, helpers entitled to gratuity payment: SC

In a detailed order acknowledging the contributions of anganwadi centres and its workers, the apex court recognises the womens’ right to gratuity payment

anganwadiImage: TV9

Anganwadi workers (AWWs) and Anganwadi helpers (AWHs) are entitled to gratuity payment under the Payment of Gratuity Act, said the Supreme Court on April 25, 2022.

Impugning the August 8, 2017 judgement of a Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court, Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhya S. Oka restored an earlier judgment by a Single Judge in 2016 that held the provisions of the 1972 Act applicable to AWWs and AWHs in anganwadi centres.

“I have no manner of doubt that the 1972 Act will apply to anganwadi centres and in turn to AWWs and AWHs… The Controlling Authority has granted simple interest at the rate of 10 percent on the overdue gratuity amounts. All eligible AWWs and AWHs shall be entitled to the benefit of interest,” said the court.

As such, it directed that three months from Monday, the state government take the necessary steps to extend benefits to provide the simple interest at 10 percent per annum from the date specified under sub-section 3A of Section 7 of the Act.

State’s argument

The Gujarat government had argued that although AWWs and AWHs hold a prominent role in the ICDS scheme, they are not eligible for the provisions of the 1972 Act because their anganwadi centres do not come under the term ‘establishment’ as it does not carry on any business, trade or profession or any activity connected.

Further, the government said that AWWs and AWHs are paid an honorarium and not wages that were enhanced in 2020. Nowadays, AWWs get a remuneration of ₹ 7,800 per month along with a “number of other benefits”. As such the government argued that further gratuity to 51,560 AWWs and 48,690 AWHs in the state will cause a “substantial financial burden on the State exchequer.” The amount payable towards gratuity will be more than ₹ 25 cr.

Rejoinder from AWWs and AWHs

Challenging the state’s argument, appellants said that anganwadi centres are ‘establishments’ within the meaning of clause (b) of Section 1(3) of the 1972 Act that goes beyond the ‘industry’ definition. Further, they pointed out that anganwadi centres perform the statutory duty of implementing provisions of Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the National Food Security Act, 2013. AWWs and AWHs said that their responsibilities extend beyond anganwadi centres to running pre-primary schools in the centres. Moreover, they are obligated to make home visits for various purposes. They concluded their argument by stating that they are doing full-time jobs and are discharging onerous responsibilities.

Elaborating on their troubles, AWWs and AWHs said they identify beneficiaries, cook and serve nutritious food, conduct preschool for the children between 3 to 6 years. Implementation of provisions relating to children, pregnant women as well as lactating mothers under the 2013 Act are entrusted to them.

“It is thus impossible to accept the contention that the job assigned to AWWs and AWHs is a part-time job,” they said.

In Gujarat, AWWs are paid ₹ 7,800 a month and AWHs are paid only ₹ 3,950 monthly. AWWs working in mini-Anganwadi centres are being paid a sum of ₹ 4,400 per month. For all their work, AWWs and AWHs are paid meagre remuneration and paltry benefits under an insurance scheme of the central government.

“It is high time that the Central Government and State Governments take serious note of the plight of AWWs and AWHs who are expected to render such important services to the society,” they said.

Court nodding assent with the petitioners

After hearing the arguments, both judges were in agreement with the AWWs and AWHs.

“Time has come to find out modalities in providing better service conditions of the voiceless commensurate to the nature of job discharged by them,” said the court.

Justices said that the central government and state governments have to collectively consider the existing working conditions of Anganwadi workers/helpers coupled with lack of job security. Oka said this results in lack of motivation to serve in disadvantaged areas with limited sensitivity towards the delivery of services to such underprivileged groups.

The top court observed that the role of AWWs and AWHs is not only at war against malnutrition but also country-wide threats like the Covid-19 pandemic. The court said that these frontline women workers were the backbone of the ICDS. As per 2018 statistics, there were 1.36 million functional anganwadi centres spread across all districts. These districts are staffed by frontline health staff i.e., one AWW and AWH each. Majority of these centres are located in difficult terrains and these women have to trek for several kilometres every day to discharge their duties. In the pandemic, these workers took the additional duty to home-deliver ration to ICDS beneficiaries and also educate rural people about Covid-19 and prepare a list of outsiders visiting the villages.

AS for the ICDS scheme, it is not just a welfare scheme but a means of protecting the rights of children under six- including their right to nutrition, health and joyful learning and rights of pregnant and lactating mothers. The survival, well-being and rights of children become social issues of interest to the whole community and not just to the mothers of the families concerned. “Socialised childcare” contributes to the liberation of women and lightens the burden of looking after children. It also provides a potential source of remunerated employment for women and gives them an opportunity to build women’s organisations.

“In light of these rich contributions of childcare to social progress, ICDS deserves far greater attention in public policy since ICDS acts as an institutional mechanism for realization of child and women rights. Yet these services are regarded as State largesse rather than as enforceable entitlements,” said the court order.

Overall, it was concluded that anganwadi centres, established to give effect to state obligations as defined under Article 47 of the Constitution, provide statutory posts to AWWs and AWHs.

“As far as the State of Gujarat is concerned, the appointments of AWWs and AWHs are governed by the said Rules. In view of the 2013 Act, AWWs and AWHs are no longer a part of any temporary scheme of ICDS. It cannot be said that the employment of AWWs and AWHs has temporary status,” said the court order.

The full order may be read here: 




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