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Join us to ‘Save ICDS’ Support the March to Parliament of  Anganwadi Workers and Helpers on 21 November 2014

Be it Narendra Modi or Manmohan Singh as Prime Ministers of India both tell us that India is a ‘Super power’ and soon going to be Number One in the world! But, apart from the number of billionaires or the amount of black money and amount involved in corruption scams, nothing seems to improve in our country.
For the common people, the basic needs and services seem to be impossible to achieve. Guaranteed employment for at least two hundred days a year with minimum wages, ration shops with good quality food grains and essential commodities available in necessary quantity at ‘fair price’, a good hospital with treatment and medicines at affordable price nearby, a good school with quality education nearby for our children ‘free and compulsory’ as per the law, access to drinking water and electricity and an anganwadi centre with infrastructure and other facilities where our children get nutrition, healthcare and pre-school education- why is it still a dream for more than ninety percent of the citizens of the ‘Super power’?

Our children, our future
Children are the future of humanity. India have 15.8 crore children under the age of 6 years. 48% of them are undernourished which is 42% of the world’s undernourished children. 78% of them are anemic. 85 lakh children die at birth every year in our country. Now, even after 65 years of independence, we are raising a basic question, is it a right of our children to have food to eat? Or shall we leave our future to the mercy of some ‘big’ ’good’ people and Corporate companies who may help some of the ‘poor’ to eat food through some ‘charity’ programmes?

The problems of high maternal and child mortality and child malnutrition have been big challenges India faces. To address these, the government was forced to start the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Anganwadi centres functioning in a thousand population, through the anganwadi worker and helper in each centre will provide supplementary nutrition, health check- ups and referral services to the under six children, the pregnant and lactating mothers. 3-6 year old children are provided with pre-school education. The ICDS Scheme which started in 1975 in 33 projects 4891 anganwadi centres now spread over 7076 projects into 13.4 lakh operational anganwadi centres, feeding 8 crore children under six and 12 lakh pregnant and lactating mothers, is the only scheme to address child malnutrition in our country.

A common citizen expect that there is a proper anganwadi building with enough space for the children to sit, sleep and play around, have provision for drinking water, toilets, electricity, have play and education materials for them, good quality , nutritious, tasty, hot cooked food available for them there. There shall be proper monitoring of their growth and proper care for their health.
But what we have actually is a matter of concern. Even after thirty nine years of existence more than fifty percent of the anganwadi centres do not have own building, 40% do not have drinking water, not to talk about the playground. There is no food available in some areas for as much as four months, sometimes it is packaged food, some time it is food provided by some agency which is rotten when they reach the centre. There is no play materials or even place to sit. But there are places where it is functioning very effectively.

The fact is that the government of India till now do not even conceived to make the ICDS a permanent department but continuing as a scheme which may be renewed in every five year plan. The anganwadi worker or helper who deliver such valuable service, working for more than six- seven hours per day and on many occasions whom the people hold responsible for the structural failures of the anganwadi centres, is not an ‘employee’ or ‘worker’ but according to the government is a ‘voluntary service provider’ who will not get any salary but an ‘honorarium’. The worker and helper were getting only rupees 1500 and 750 per month respectively till 2011. Even now it is Rs.3000 and Rs 1500 per month respectively which is far below the minimum wages. After three decades of servcie they are forced to ‘retire’ with empty hands. They do not get any other benefit from the government and even the honorarium is paid after five to six months.

But, with all the shortcomings the ICDS is proved to be effective in reducing the child malnutrition in the last decade when it was universalized. This was shown in the latest survey of the government if India on child malnutrition. There are Parliamentary committee reports, studies by government agencies, order by the Supreme Court etc directing, suggesting institutionalization and strengthening of ICDS. These reports are being continuously neglected. The Parliamentary Committee on Women and Child Development in 2009 had recommended better wages and pension for the anganwadi workers and helpers. In 2013, the 45th Indian Labour Conference(ILC) recommended that all scheme workers including the anganwadi workers and helpers must be regularized, be paid minimum wages and be provided pension. The Ministry of WCD had opposed this suggestion.

Oppose the Privatisation of ICDS through ‘Mission’
With the increasing poverty on one hand and the effectiveness of the ICDS on the other hand, the demand to make this scheme institutionalized, as a part of the right of the people got strengthened. But the policy which creates huge profits and dollar billionaires on the one side and the unemployed and underpaid and malnourished on the other side, doesn’t have any space for the ‘right’ of the people! The governments continuously talks about cutting down ‘subsidies’ and ‘welfare schemes’, whereas in the last five years the government had given subsidies – tax relaxations- of Rs.36.5 lakh crore to the ‘crorepatis’. ‘Modiji’ in his share, in the last budget had given Rs.5.4 lakh crore to them!

Not only that the government, under the UPA as well as under the NDA want to hand over the amount allocated to these welfare schemes also to the corporates. Started as ICDS Project IV as per the directive of the World Bank, the government , instead of making the ICDS a permanent department has made it more short term converting it into ‘ICDS Mission’ in October 2012. The Mission proposals are for user fees, change of focus from the supplementary nutrition to the guidance of how to feed, and compulsory handing over to private companies and NGOs, giving the fund from ICDS to the private nursery schools for pre- school education etc.

In many states the governments started implementing these measures of privatisation where as some increase in the allocation of infrastructure development is still to be approved. Corporate houses like Vedanta, J P Cements etc and Corporate NGOs like ISKCON Akshayapatra and Naandi foundation have taken over the centres in some states. These companies are taking money from government and also getting concessions to run the scheme and show it as ‘corporate social responsibility’. Akshayapatra is collecting donations from India and abroad to feed the ‘hungry children of India’. Apart from diverting the public money allocated to these schemes into private hands, the government is making the right to food of the children to a charity of the corporates!

No other option but to be on the streets
Now it is no longer a question of the anganwadi workers and helpers alone. The question now is the right of the children, the right of the people of the country. AIFAWH along with the CITU had taken the initiative to build a movement of the people to ‘Save ICDS’, since 2005. Along with the beneficiaries organizations – organizations of worker, peasants, agricultural workers and women- the Centre of Indian Trade unions(CITU), All India Kisan Sabha(AIKS), All India Agricultural Workers union(AIAWU) and All India Democratic Women’s Association(AIDWA) had collected four crore signatures from the people of the country on a memorandum to Prime Minister demanding

• No privatisation of ICDS in any form including handing over to NGOs, Corporates, Self Help Groups etc
• Make adequate financial allocations for ICDS
• Improve infrastructure in anganwadi centres
• Regularise all anganwadi workers and helpers, provide them minimum wages and social security benefits

Let us fight for a vibrant anganwadi centre with own building with water electricity and all infrastructure for children to eat good quality food, play, learn and take rest, in each human habitat in India, working for eight hours with full time anganwadi workers and helpers who are regular government employees answerable to the people.

To submit the memorandum to the prime Minister, AIFAWH is mobilising more than fifty thousand anganwadi workers and helpers in red uniform to March to the parliament on 21 November 2014 at Delhi.

We seek the support of all in our struggle for the rights of the children and the people and also for justice to the anganwadi workers and helpers.