Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Defend the Benefits! Counter the Attack!
Advance for the Rights!

Dear sisters,

We are on continuous struggles for our rights and for strengthening of ICDS since its inception. But in the last three years of the NDA government which had promised ‘ache din’ for anganwadi workers and helpers too, we are facing an unprecedented situation. The Modi government is moving fast to dismantle the scheme by budget cut and privatisation.

Along with our demands of recognition as employees, minimum wages, pension and social security, AIFAWH has been continuously raising the demands of institutionalisation of ICDS, adequate budget allocation for proper infrastructure and full nutrition and proper pre school training in the anganwadi centres. It is high time to achieve the vision at the time of starting of ICDS, to develop the anganwadi as a full childcare centre with all facilities required. The work of the grass root functionaries, the anganwadi workers and helpers must be recognised.

In many states, our unions led militant struggles to victory in achieving an increase in remuneration and some other benefits. In the last one year, we could achieve this in eight states. While it has to build our confidence and guide our future struggles, we have to understand the threat to ICDS and simultaneously focus on the struggle to save the Scheme itself.

Cut the budget, starve the scheme, privatise it or wind it up!

Narendra Modi is the first Prime Minister who had cut down the budget for ICDS by around 60% in his first full budget. Even though our pressure had made him reinstate it to some extent, even the Budget allocation for the ICDS (core) in 2017-18 is only Rs.15245.19crores is less by around Rs.1500 crores than the allocation in 2014-15.

From this year the Prime Minister’s Office is directly controlling the allocations, insisting that it will give the allocation only in proportion to the spending by the states. This mean that , if due to any bureaucratic delay, the concerned state did not send the utility certificate on time, there will be more cut in the budgets which will ultimately lead to the closing of the scheme.

Make the scheme ineffective and privatise
Due to the budget cut made in 2015-16, the functioning of the ICDS had been affected. In most of the states, the wages are not paid for upto six months. Since the allocation for the supplementary nutrition is also pending, the anganwadi workers are forced to pay out of their pockets or borrow the necessary items from the local shopkeepers for 3-8 months. Wherever the workers could not do this, there is no supply of nutrition t the children. This is in spite of the statutory requirement of Right to Food Act.
Once the centres have become non functional, in the name of that, the governments are moving for privatisation of the scheme. Big corporate houses are invited to “adopt’ anganwadi centres. Anganwadi workers are asked to find resources ‘from the civil society’ or to ‘find sponsors’ for the scheme. The Minister for Women and Child Development Smt Maneka Gandhi stated that ‘anganwadi centres shall generate some income’.

Take home ration as a business
The minister also wants to ‘involve people like Baba Ramdev and companies like Pepsico in providing ready made food in ICDS’. This has become the new business, by many state governments, in spite of the Supreme Court order to supply freshly cooked food and to avoid contractors in ICDS. In Maharashtra, the WCD Minister of BJP who is infamous in Rs.200 crore ‘Chikki’ scam in 2015 has now had ordered for Rs.100 crores worth ready to eat packaged food through contractors!

Direct cash transfer
The Minsitry is trying to replace the scheme with direct cash transfers. On the universal basic income(UBI) which is proposed before the budget, the Finance Minister states that it is to replace all subsidies and all welfare schemes including ICDS. The ministry stated that it is “also exploring the possibility of Conditional Cash Transfer in lieu of THR in select districts as a pilot as one of the options.”

‘Mahila Shakti Kendra’- Not Women’s empowerment but corporate takeover of the scheme
The Ministry has already signed an agreement with the Corporate ‘Vedanta’ Company (which by the way is a tax defaulter to the tune of Rs.20,495 crores) for building 4000 anganwadi centres for Rs.400 crores and to utilise half of the time of the centres for skill development. The anganwadi centres’ all of which are meant to be developed as anganwadi cum crèches shall not be utilised for any other purpose.

But the budget this year proposes to develop all the anganwadi centres as “Mahila Shakti Kendras’ for skill development of the rural women! This means nothing but corporate take over of anganwadis to convert them as their outlets.

Now attack on our benefits – AKBY withdrawn
It is shocking that the Ministry has decided to stop the only social security available for the anganwadi workers and helpers provided by it, the Anganwadi Karyakarti Bima Yojana (AKBY) for the majority of workers. Instead, the workers in the age group of 18-50 years are to enroll with Pradhan Mantri Jivan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) and Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) which are only life insurance schemes( Rs. One lakh and Rs.2 lakhs at the time of death only), where as AKBY in addition to the life insurance, covers female critical illness (cancers) and Siksha Sahayog – scholarship of Rs.300 per quarter for the children studying in 9th to 12th standard. This is when we were demanding the AKBY must cover for all types of cancers and also kidney diseases.

Truth of PF and ESI for anganwadi workers and helpers
At the same there is a big propaganda by the Modi Government and their blind follower trade unions also that the government has introduced EPF for anganwadi workers and helpers and ASHA and MDM workers. But the fact is that the government and even the WCD Ministry are not ready to accept the proposals of EPFO because they don’t want to acknowledge us as workers!

In the proposed scheme, the workers will be made to pay 10% of their meagre wage. Similar is the case of ESI. The workers have to pay up to Rs.250 per month, for only limited benefits which do not include hospitalization! Moreover, now the future of the EPFO and ESIC itself are in danger, since the government is proposing to do away with the EPF Act itself. Now, the workers are forced by the authorities to join the Atal Pension Yojana (which is same as Swavalamban) which will be only applicable to workers up to the age of 40years and it has no guaranteed benefit.

All other issues pending
All other demands which were raised by us are also yet to be considered. As per the ministry, there are 114289 vacancies of anganwadi workers and 122190 vacancies of helper existing in the country to be filled. Instead the governments are going ahead with mergers of anganwadi centres and closing down tem in the name of starting pre primary centres in schools. The Mini anganwadi workers perform all duties of a regular anganwadi worker, alone. But in spite of repeated assurances, the government is not even ready to pay them on par with the regular anganwadi worker.
We must realize that all the problems we face are due to the anti people anti worker policies of this government. These are the same policies for which the peasants are not getting remunerative prices and are compelled to commit suicide. Now the people including the peasantry like the working class are coming out on streets against these policies.

Repression against unions
On 26 May 2017, anganwadi workers and helpers throughout the country observed ‘dhoka diwas’ on the third anniversary of Modi government by burning the BJP election manifest with false promise of wage increase to anganwadi workers and helpers. BJP led governments in the fear of getting exposed among the people are now trying to prevent our trade union activites. Haryana government issued an order for terminating “the anganwadi workers and helpers who participate in dharna, rally, demonstration or strike on their demands” Our union has reacted by taking out demonstrations and burning the copies of the order.

Intensify the struggles
In this background it is very important for us to show our strength of protest to the Modi government and various anti worker state governments. AIFWH will observe our all India demand’s day on 10 July this year with militant programmes and demonstrations at district level.

Comrades,
Come out on streets! Defend the Benefits!
Counter the Attack! Advance for the Rights!