Smt Smriti Irani
Honorable Minister for Women and Child Development
Government of India
Sub:- On Strengthening ICDS and Grievances of anganwadi workers and helpers including Safety, Minimum Wages and Pension
All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers(AIFAWH), the trade union federation of anganwadi workers and helpers representing more than five lakh workers in 24 states and UTs would like to bring to your notice some issues faced by the workers and helpers as well as the challenges before ICDS and also to place some of our major demands. These are in continuation of our earlier representations.
- Safety gear, risk allowance and insurance coverage for the anganwadi workers and helpers in fighting pandemic
As you are well aware, the anganwadi workers and helpers throughout the country have been playing a very crucial role in the fight against Covid 19 pandemic and also the hunger and malnutrition during the pandemic and lock down. In almost all the states the anganwadi workers and helpers are engaged in door to door supply of supplementary nutrition, campaign for safety measures, tracking those who came from affected countries, doing public surveys, monitoring patients in covid centres and red zones and finding out even the migrant workers and hungry during early days of the lock down. The workers have to risk their lives doing the duty since in most of the states they were not provided with any safety equipments or risk allowance. In many states they were attacked by anti socials during covid duty. Many anganwadi workers have died of Corona. But except a few none got the announced insurance compensation of Rs.50 lakhs.
We request you to intervene and ensure payment with retrospective effect for safety gear, risk allowance, life insurance amount and compensation and treatment expenses for those who were infected and their families.
- Adequate budget allocation for ICDS
The recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) data shows alarming indications of an increase in malnutrition in the period 2014-19 with nearly half of our children anemic, stunted, wasted and underweight. The pandemic and lockdown had made the situation worsen with job and income losses, unemployment etc. UNICEF has warned that India will lose an additional three lakh children under five years in the next six months, due to poverty, hunger and malnutrition if this issue is not urgently addressed. This is in addition to the nearly 8.8 lakh under fives who die every year.
It is a matter of great concern that the allocation for ICDS in the previous budgets, especially for the Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) during the 12th Five year plan period was less than half of the Plan proposal. Due to this payments on wages and various allowances are due for months in many states.
It is a pity that the anganwadi workers and helpers are getting only Rs4500 per month and Rs.2250 per month even after 45 years of ICDS. The 45th and 46th Indian Labour Conference Recommendations for regularizing the anganwadi workers and helpers, paying minimum wages and pension have been continuously neglected. At a time when nationally and internationally, the importance of ‘care work’ (especially the unpaid and underpaid work of women) is being recognized and being counted as part of GDP, it is very important that the ministry of ‘Women and Child Development’, the ministry to take care of the interests of women, take a stand recognizing the labour of women employees of this ministry who impart a major part of institutional care to the next generation of our country. So the very design of ICDS in which this labour is treated as ‘voluntary’ only at the time of payment needs to be redefined. It is all the more important when these workers by policy recruited from socially backward sections of the society.
We request you to intervene and ensure increased allocation for ICDS in the ensuing Central Budget 2021-22 for strengthening ICDS with proper infrastructure, increased SNP in quality and quantity, for minimum wages and pension for anganwadi workers and helpers. Clear all arrears immediately.
- Pre School Education/ECCE
In many states, in the name of the New National Education Policy (NEP 2020), pre-schools being opened in schools and the children above three years from anganwadi centres are asked to go to schools by the education departments. In many places, four to five anganwadi centres are being shifted to nearby schools and the entire concept of holistic Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is being sabotaged limiting it to pre- school/kindergartens.
Both the NEP 2020 as well as the national ECCE Policy 2013 clearly states about strengthening the ICDS/anganwadi centres as full time ECCE centres/anganwadi cum crèches with proper infrastructure, training to the workers and helpers etc. Immediate intervention is necessary to ensure implementation of ECCE Policy and strengthening of anganwadi centres and training of anganwadi workers and helpers with the enactment of Right to ECCE Act.
We request you to ensure that ECCE must be imparted only through the anganwadis or anganwadi model ECCE centres with holistic approach and should be totally free and compulsory. Please ensure proper coordination between various departments, particularly the department of Education so that no preschool or nutritional centres should be opened near the anganwadi centres. The different departments/ agencies of the government may spend the funds at their disposal for the improvement in the nutritional and educational status of children and women by strengthening the anganwadi centres.
- Privatisation of ICDS
It is a matter of great concern that in the name of CSR, Corporate companies and Corporate NGOs are interfering in the daily functioning of the anganwadi centres. We have already expressed our concern about the declaration of the ‘Vedanta’ Company, which is only supposed to build the anganwadi buildings, to utilise half the time of anganwadi centres for skill development. We also came to know that in some states they are getting involved in nutrition and also in the pre-school education including preparation of modules.
We are also concerned about the recent reports about the Vedanta Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation involving in ICDS. It is ironical that the companies which are tax defaulters and go for litigation on their tax dues against the government are utilizing the CSR to create goodwill with the government and the public.
Their involvement will not only shift the ICDS from a right based approach to charity based scheme , but also will facilitate the interference of corporate in crucial policy matters. We demand that no move of Corporate /private intervention which is against the basic purpose of the scheme shall be introduced in ICDS in the name of CSR.
- No Cash Transfer in place of Nutrition
In many states government s are trying to introduce cash transfers in place of freshly cooked food in ICDS. This will adversely affect the fight against malnutrition. The centralized kitchens in many states also adversely affect the nutritional value of SNP, in addition to adversely affecting the functioning of anganwadi centres.
NO Cash transfer or centralized kitchen to be allowed in ICDS.
- Full Payment for Mini Anganwadi Workers
The Mini anganwadi workers perform all duties of a regular anganwadi worker, alone.
Convert all the mini anganwadi centres into full fledged anganwadi centres and appoint helpers. Pay equal wages and benefits to the anganwadi workers working in the mini anganwadi centres as those of the regular anganwadi workers.
- Extra Work
In spite of the guidelines from the centre, in most of the states, anganwadi workers and helpers are given work other than that related to ICDS, including BLO duties in elections, which is affecting the work of the anganwadi centre. No work other than that of ICDS shall be assigned to the anganwadi workers and helpers.
- Uniform Working Conditions and other issues
- Uniform Working Conditions:Although the anganwadi workers and helpers are performing similar work throughout the country, their working conditions including wages varies from state to state. We request you to issue directions for uniform wages throughout the country. Please also ensure similar working conditions to all anganwadi workers and helpers in the country with provisions for paid medical leave, promotion of workers to the post of supervisors, promotion of helpers to workers, both without age limit, summer and winter holidays, 10% annual increment, increment for helpers and mini workers etc
- Right to Unionise: Recognise the Right to Organisation and Collective bargaining of the anganwadi employees. Include anganwadi workers and helpers in Labour laws. Withdraw the order restricting the anganwadi employees’ participating in union activities.
- Right to contest elections: There should be no restrictions on the political activities of the anganwadi employees, including the freedom to participate in any election, till such date as they are recognised as government employees, when the service conditions as applicable to government employees may be applied to them. Elected representatives should be allowed to take leave and rejoin once he term is finished
- No forced retirement till pension: In many states, anganwadi workers and helpers are being retrenched without any pension or ex gratia. No forced retirement be allowed till pension, exgratia and other social security measures are ensured.
- Implementation of existing benefits for anganwadi workers and helpers throughout the country
Anganwadi workers and helpers are one of the poorly paid sections of the workforce of the government of India without even the recognition as workers. But, the most shocking truth is that even these are not being provided to them. Nowhere in the country, are all the existing benefits provided to them on a regular basis.
Wages, TA/DA, contingency, centre rent etc. are never paid monthly on time in most of the states. Anganwadi Karyakarti Bima Yojana is not being implemented and the scholarship for two children included in the scheme is not paid to them. Even the maternity leave and casual leave are not given to the workers and helpers in many states.
We request you to issue fresh orders on the existing benefits for the anganwadi workers and helpers given by the centre to be properly implemented
- Grievance Redressal Committees should be constituted at centre in all the states at the state and district levels by including representatives of the anganwadi employees’ unions.
- Faulty Digitisation
It is a welcome move that the records of the anganwadi centres are being digitized. But unfortunately in most of the states instead of reducing the workload, it has created doubling of workload of the workers, created problems for the beneficiaries due to issues of software created without taking into account practical issues, non issuing of mobile phone and data pack, non availability of internet connection etc. Workers are being harassed and victimized for technical failures and are forced to spend money from their pocket to implement programmes, especially the Poshan Mission, and report online.
Please ensure scientific software, proper infrastructure before implementation of digitization. Victimisation of Anganwadi workers and helpers must be stopped forthwith.
- Against Sexual harassment and Violence
Anganwadi workers and helpers as grassroot level activists are often been victims of violence prevalent in the society. There are many cases of sexual harassment and violence against them. Recently a helper was gangraped and murdered in Badaun , district UP in a temple. Please issue directives for prevention of sexual harassment at workplace, provide safety and security at work, justice to the victims of violence and compensation from the department.
We are also surprised that you have given a reply to a question in Lok Sabha (Unstarred Question number 4511) on 20 September 2020 that “In the recent past no complaint regarding the exploitation of Angnawadi Workers and Helpers has been received in the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD).” AIFAWH had submitted many representations on various issues. We wonder how you have missed all of them. We are sorry to say we have been continuously denied appointment with the officials of the department. Please ensure that the issues of the grassroot level functionaries of this crucial scheme are addressed on time.
We hope that you will personally intervene in the matter and ensure these demands are met.
A R Sindhu