Thursday, 23 January 2020
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‘Glorious’ India

Now an average Indian knows that India is soon going to be one of the biggest economic and political forces of the world! ‘Manmohanji’ started taking us there and now ‘Modiji’ will soon reach us there! This is what the governments, the media, the ‘learned’ people all say. They say that the GDP is growing, our billionaires grow bigger and we get more billionaires, etc.
But we the majority Indians hesitate to believe this ‘good story’ being told since 1991, because our experiences tell us something else.

We have ever increasing unemployment which is 3.8% in 2014.Number of people who eat less than the required minimum of 2200 calories a day had increased from 59% in 2003-4 to 74% in 2009-10 in rural India.

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% them are anemic. 85 lakh children die at birth every year in our country.

Do we, the common citizens, have any Right?
Now after 65 years of independence, we raised a basic question, is it a right of a citizen to have food to eat? Or shall we leave it to the charity of some ‘big’ ’good’ people and companies who may help some of the ‘poor’ to eat food through some charity programmes? The Indian people and their movements are successful in establishing the food as a right of the people of the country. With all its limitations, we have a food security act, where our children are entitled to have one time food in the anganwadi centre in ICDS Scheme till the age of six years and one meal in a school under the Mid Day Meal Scheme.

ICDS Scheme
ICDS is a unique scheme which started in 1975 in 33 projects 4891 anganwadi centres in the country 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 and giving pre- school education to nearly 4 crore children of 3-6 years.

The Scheme has some in built faults. Firstly, till now it was not as a right based institution it is conceived as one time intervention as a scheme which may be renewed in every five year plan. Therefore the infrastructure, the allocations etc were paltry. Secondly, there is no provision for the human resource required to deliver the service to the grass root. The employees who provide the service to the children in the anganwadi centres are not workers or employees but are ‘volunteers’ who get a paltry ‘honorarium.’

It is due to the pressure from the people’s movements and groups and the intervention by the apex court the scheme was ‘universalised’. All the studies on ICDS including the latest one done by Dr. Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera in 2014 shows that the scheme is one which is effective at the grass root level and makes an impact on its beneficiaries.
But the long pending demand for enough funds for ICDS to improve the infrastructure and quality of services including the supplementary nutrition had been continuously ignored by various governments came to power at the centre.

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!

The counter campaign against the demand of institutionalization of the ICDS was done with the World Bank directives. It came as the World Bank’s ICDS project IV in 2007 with the direction for user fees, change of focus from the supplementary nutrition to the guidance of how to feed, and handing over to private companies and NGOs.

ICDS Mission

The ICDS Mission which came into existence in November 2012 is the culmination of these efforts for backdoor privatization and eventual dismantling of the scheme.

The main features of the ‘Mission’

• The very concept of the Mission is short term and to be closed once the target is achieved. So instead of making the ICDS as a permanent institution, Mission makes it further short term. For this purpose, the Scheme will now be functioning through registered societies at state, district and block levels.
• Focus of the services shifted to IEC (Information, Education and Communication) , from the supplementary nutrition and childcare at the centre. educate the beneficiary on the necessities and the healthy practices rather than providing he services at the centre. This will convert the centres to advice centres.
• Handing over the centres to NGOs and Corporates – 10% centres must be mandatorily handed over to NGOs and 10% to Panchayati Raj Institutions. Already started handing over the centres to corporate NGOs like ISKCON, Naandi Foundation, and corporate Vedanta(Odisha, Jharkhand), JP cements (Madhya Pradesh)etc
• Privatisation of pre-school education – The money allocated for pre-school education can be diverted to existing private nursery schools as per the norms of the Mission.
• Outsourcing of the supply of supplementary nutrition to NGOs or SHGs and private contractors. In UP it is already outsourced. The norms decided are in such a way that only big corporate players get the contract.
• In the name of community participation, workers are asked to collect materials from the community for the anganwadi centre. In Himachal Pradesh only nine months SNP is provided and the workers are supposed to ‘mobilise’ from the ‘community’ the rest.

What does it mean for the employees
• Increased work load – The timing of the anganwadi centres is increased to six hours and more. Without any increase in the remuneration, now the anganwadi workers and helpers work for same time as of the school staff.
• 5% centres to be converted into anganwadi – cum crèches. But there is no increase in the remuneration of the workers and helpers. The timing of each of the employee in the crèche will have to be ‘adjusted’ in such a way not to exceed six hours.
• All the new appointments of the Mission will be on contract basis.
• All the workers and helpers above 65 years are to be retired. But there is no mention of any retirement benefits

Extra workers

There is a proposal for an ‘anganwadi worker cum nutrition counselor’ for each anganwadi centre, in the high burdened districts. The reason for appointing an additional worker is given that the existing anganwadi worker is overburdened with so many works that she cannot concentrate in anganwadi work. This is a fact. The main reason for it is the high burden of the non-ICDS work on the anganwadi worker. This must be immediately stopped.

If one study the work allocation, much of it is duplication of some of the works which may crate nothing but confusion and tension in the centre. Including the pre-school education for minimum four hours and the home visits concentrating on the under 6 months and the lactating mother and the supplementary nutrition provided in the centre, it can be easily done by a full time anganwadi worker and a helper who together run a full time anganwadi centre – cum crèche. But the government which do not want to appoint worker or helper as full time employee since then they have to pay minimum wages. So instead they are appointing one more part timer.

AIFAWH has given a call for the boycott of all non- ICDS work by the anganwadi workers and helpers. This is very much necessary for the anganwadi workers and helpers to concentrate on ICDS work so that the government will not get any reason for dismantling the ICDS in the plea that the workers are not effective or enough for the ICDS work.

In all the other districts, the proposal is to have a link worker in a cluster of 4-5 anganwadi centres to cover the entire population, but to her payment will be on incentives based on outputs and will not exceed Rs.750 per month! This must not be allowed at any cost.

What is there ‘improved’

There are some limited proposals to improve the infrastructure. For construction of anganwadi centres with toilets, drinking water, play grounds/space etc. The allocation for the buildings of the centres is only 15% of the total centres. The amount allotted for renovation of the centre has not reached the centres since decades.

The long pending demand of increase in rent has made conditional whcich makes it near to impossible to get the place or to get the increased rent.
There is an increase in the allocation for the pre -school kit, education kit, contingency etc for the anganwadi centre.

The governments which are going on rocket speed in implementing the privatization directives are not at all implementing any of these improved/increased provisions.

The politics behind the Policies

The neoliberal policy for the appropriation of the public funds to the private hands did not spare the ICDS which provide the very basic minimum service to the future of India. The entire effort for bringing in private corporate and corporate NGOs in the name of ‘social responsibility’, ‘involvement of the public’ etc. is meant to siphon the government funds for the scheme into their account.
In simple words, the expense of running the anganwadi centres will be borne by the Government by transferring it into the account of the Company/NGO, the corporate will show its CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) as running the ICDS centres, will get tax concessions as well as goodwill of the people, the NGO will get the money from government, get funds from business houses and public for this charitable action! This is what is going on now.

For example, Multinational ‘Vedanta’ Company of Shri Anil Agarwal got the CSR award for running anganwadi centres in Odisha and the company was projected as the ‘one who feed our children’ among the Adivasis who were struggling against the illegal mining of this company!

‘Akshayapatra’ the biggest NGO now in this field while getting money from the government to run the scheme, is collecting millions of dollars from abroad and also money from India to ‘feed India’s hungry children’. Corporate companies in food Industry like Britania, Kargil, Pepsico etc are also eyeing these schemes to make it as their captive market. Food Minister in Modi’s cabinet had already extended invitation to chairperson of Pepsico which is one notorious for its non nutritious food products and colas, to start producing food packets for these schemes!
Bureaucrats, politicians and their relatives etc taking this opportunity are up in arms with launching NGOs, producing reports and programmes ‘to address India’s biggest challenge of malnutrition’. Now malnutrition in India has become a profitable Industry!

Recommendations neglected
There are Parliamentary committee reports, studies by government agencies, Order by the Apex court etc directing, suggesting institutionalization and strengthening of ICDS, with proper allocation of funds for infrastructure, supplementary nutrition, pre-school education and better living condition for the employees. 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. These recommendations are neglected by both BJP and Congress governments.

Anganwadi worker’s struggles
Anganwadi workers and helpers are one of the most militant section of the working class which built movements throughout the country launching militant struggles on various demands. They also helped in building the movements of other sections such as ASHAs, Mid Day meal workers, NREGA workers etc and also take up the problems of violence against women, dowry etc.

Instead of discussing the issues and problems of the employees as well as the scheme, the government is continuously trying to suppress their movement. When the AIFAWH and other Federations demanded discussion on the so called restructuring of ICDS and on the demands of the workers, the Women and Child Development Ministry had issued an order directing the state department secretaries to restrict the union activities of the anganwadi workers and Helpers. Now, Modi government is amending all labour laws in such a way to make it impossible for the unions to function.

No other option but to be on the streets

The anganwadi workers are getting a remuneration of Rs.3000 per month and the anganwadi helpers are getting Rs.1500 per month from the central government, that since 2009. With no pension even after 38 years of service and no other social security benefits the anganwadi works and helpers are treated as bonded labours by the government, with no option left except to continue in the job, given the unemployment and poverty in the country. The militant struggles of anganwadi workers and helpers could get some benefits, including the present remuneration and other benefits such as maternity leave, some social security benefits etc from the central government as well as the state governments.

Now it is not only a question of the improvement of the working condition of the anganwadi employees. The neoliberal policies are taking away all limited right available for the people including the ICDS. Now it is not only a struggle of the anganwadi workers and helpers to increase their remuneration and get pension and other benefits. Now it is question of whether our children must get their right to food, health and education or shall they be left for the mercy and the charity of the corporates.

People’s movement

As a tactics, the government and the corporate media had always tried to project the issue not as one of the policy which is anti people, but as a problem in the delivery of the service. They have been trying to put workers as villains against the people whose corruption been the reason for the service not being delivered in full. Anganwadi workers and helpers were portrayed as non committed, corrupt bureaucrats who are the root cause of the problems. The continuous efforts by the AIFAWH in bringing the policies into the debates as well as improving the relations with the beneficiaries at the grass root level by mobilizing them for the improvement of the services at the anganwadi centres, had made things change.

As class conscious trade union movement, it is the duty of the unions to take the lead in fighting not only for their rights but also to take the leading role in struggles to protect the rights of the people. In this neoliberal era only by mobilizing the people in mass movements, it is possible to save the rights of the workers and the people by changing the policies causing misery to the people.
Realising this, 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

We 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.