Will Anganwadi workers ever get their due?

MP N K Premachandran introduces a bill to regularize Anganwadi workers for the second time

Anganwadi workers

Hope for the justice for Anganwadi workers rose once again as N K Premachandran moved for leave to introduce a Bill to provide for regularization of the services of Anganwadi workers and conferring the status of not less than those of Group ‘C’ employees of the Central Government on such Anganwadi workers.

Premachandran, a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party had introduced a similar bill in the Lok Sabha last year asking for the service status and welfare of the Anganwadi workers.

What is an Anganwadi and who are Anganwadi workers

An Anganwadi is a type of rural child care centre in India started by the Indian government as part of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) to combat child hunger and malnutrition. An Anganwadi is the basic health centre of the village and an important part of the public health care system. Basic healthcare activities provided at an Anganwadi centre include contraceptive counseling, nutrition education and supplementation, immunization and pre-school education among others.

According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the total numbers of Anganwadi workers and Anganwadi helpers sanctioned in the country are 1,399,697 and 1,282,847 respectively.

Each worker is responsible for the well-being of around 1,000 people in villages across India. The workers are from the community they operate in and thus have an intimate understanding of the issues surrounding patients.This workforce includes mostly women and is regarded as an acceptable and effective means of employment for women in rural areas.

Who is N K Premachandran

 Belonging to the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), he is the Member of Parliament from the Kollam Lok Sabha constituency. The former water resources minister from Kerala, he was instrumental in taking up the issue of safety of the Mullaperiyar dam.

He won the Kollam parliament seat in the 2019 elections defeating CPI (M) ideologue MA Baby by a record margin of 1.5 lakh votes. His party was a long-time ally of the CPI (M) in the Left Democratic Front (LDF), but ties had soured after RSP was denied a seat in 2014.

Premachandran is a well-known orator. He has heard delivered upon long pending demands of locals and contributed positively to developmental works.

In his five-year-term, Premachandran (58) participated in a staggering 297 debates in the Lok Sabha and moved more than 2000 amendments to different legislations and motions moved by the government in the Lower House none of which have been accepted.

He was also appointed to the Lok Sabha Speaker’s panel and tabled a bill for the consideration of the Lok Sabha seeking a ban on the entry of women aged 10 – 40 years in the Sabarimala temple.

The Anganwadi workers’ fight

With an annual budget allocation (2018-19) of Rs. 16,335 crore, the Anganwadi system forms the backbone of the community-based programme for child development.

The government has specific guidelines for these AWWs—for instance, one task should take you two minutes, another five minutes. There are various “days” that have to be organised and specific functions that must be performed. On certain days eggs have to be given to the children, on another day, vaccines; on a third day, babies have to be brought to the centre to be weighed. Then there are “meeting days”—when they must go to the meeting centres, do home visits, and meet pregnant and lactating women. It’s an impossible schedule.

And if this is not enough, AWWs have now been tasked with additional responsibilities—early childhood education (ECE), where they are expected to teach their young wards, and Self Help Group (SHG) formation and training—neither of which they were recruited or trained for, reports Quartz India.

Anganwadi workers have been fighting for better pay for years. The Government of India has recently enhanced the honorarium of Anganwadi Workers (AWWs) at main-Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) from Rs. 3,000/- to Rs. 4,500/- per month; AWWs at mini-AWCs from Rs. 2,250/- to Rs. 3,500/- per month; Anganwadi Helpers (AWHs) from Rs 1,500/- to Rs. 2,250/- per month; and introduced performance linked incentive of Rs. 250/- per month to AWHs, effective from 1st October, 2018. Further, AWWs are allowed performance linked incentive of ₹ 500/- per month for using ICDS-CAS under POSHAN Abhiyaan.In addition to the honorarium paid by the Government of India, the respective State/UTs are giving monetary incentives to these workers out of their own resources as per details given at Annexure-II, reported the Press Information Bureau.

Such an inadequate amount they say is hardly enough to provide nutrition to their own children. The Anganwadi workers have been battling for a minimum wage of Rs. 18,000 per month, garnering support from the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and other outfits affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI – M). They complain that the salaries promised to them don’t come on time and sometimes they have to go months without getting their pay. At such times, they selflessly contribute from their own pockets – for charts, toys and other items, for they love the job they do. Not just this, they also prepare food and ensure the kids get a variety in their diet.

While the Ministry of Women and Child Development has enlisted provisions for insurance and maternity leave, they are only still on paper and have not been implemented yet. Ironical, for these women who take care of pregnant women and look after children, get no such benefits for the same.

The Wire also reports of them being overburdened with tasks like Booth Level Officer (BLO) duties, surveys, maintenance of innumerable registers and even tasks that do not come under the ICDS.

Another fresh obstacle facing them is the change in the attendance system. Many have to mark their attendance by sending live locations and photographs on WhatsApp groups managed by their supervisors. Those who do not have smartphones are either asked to buy one or to use a neighbour’s phone.

“The nature of work is voluntary social service. The government is running away from its responsibility of treating these women as regular employees because of which women are losing out on so many things,” says Shivani Kaul, president of the Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers’ Union. “The government employs women from the most deprived sections of the society for this scheme and the entire system considers women as the cheapest source of labour. Be it in domestic work or the caregiving sector, women are taken for granted everywhere,” Kaul added.

Many governments have looked at privatizing the social welfare scheme and neglecting the impact it will have on these women who have been toiling away for years seeing the government’s vision through.

“Regardless of the party in power, the government, since 1991, has been trying to involve private players in social welfare schemes and step away from its responsibilities and this attitude is affecting the workers severely. ICDS is a central government scheme and the Centre should take full responsibility,” Kamala, general secretary of Delhi anganwadi workers and helpers affiliated with CITU told The Wire.

According to Kamala and Kaul, ICDS should be made into a separate department which will open the doors to the regularisation of anganwadi workers. “Until the workers are given the status of employees, they should at least be given a minimum wage.” Kamala added.

Speaking to Sabrang India, Armaity Irani from the Anganwadi KarmachariSangathana (Maharashtra) said that Anganwadi workers are critical providers of education for children of the poor, which is one of the six services provided by them. They look after children aged 0 – 6 years by providing them important education, a period which is extremely important for brain development. Yet, the government is overlooking their contribution as education providers and focusing solely on the issue of food. Even that, is way below the mark, as the children who need hot meals, are instead being given THR (Take Home Ration), powders to be boiled in water which is unpalatable, thus leading to severe starvation and malnutrition.

Another problem, Irani added, was the problem of cumbersome technology. As mentioned above, Anganwadi workers are now given phones to mark their attendance with and some, over the age of 60, find it especially difficult to operate the same. Plus network issues in rural areas mean that they aren’t able to log in, thus leading to pay cuts. They also have to use this to report other details like the data of beneficiaries, their age, weight, details of home visits, etc.

There is an additional burden of rent. The Anganwadi workers do not get their salaries or rent for the centres in time and often have to rely on their own means to gather money and pay for the Anganwadi Centre rent out of their own wages.

Regularisation is a far-fetched dream, says Irani, about the hard-working Anganwadi workers who even work on Sundays, providing food to the kids. The Centre has a stipulated wage package for the workers and the helpers, with the rest being provided by the State governments. Currently, the Centre pays Rs. 4,500 to workers and Rs. 2,250 to helpers. There is also a disparity here for some governments do not contribute to salaries or benefits at all. The unions are now demanding a minimum wage of Rs. 21,000 per month for all anganwadi workers from the Central government.

 It is pitiable to see that one of the most important links in the chain of women and child welfare is being treated so apathetically by every government. With demands being ignored for years, these women have now taken to the streets to protest against the step-motherly treatment meted out to them by the same government that they help so smoothly run.

Shubha Shamim, Vice-President, All-India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) told Sabrang India that the current policies of the government are completely opposite to those that we require for regularization. She said, “I don’t think the government will take any step towards regularization. The wage increase last year has not been implemented in many places yet. The Centre will pass on the responsibility to the states to take care of the wage problem. The government isn’t willing to increase wages citing that the work of the Anganwadi workers is not a full-time job, though the reality is quite the opposite. We do not have any hopes from the current government as it is anti-people, anti-workers and anti-welfare schemes. They are only aiming for privatisation and when they do heed to our demands, it is woefully inadequate.”



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