Kerala has a tradition of having left and rightwing governments ruling the state alternatively. Whenever the Left Front governments came to power, they tried to initiate and implement long term plans for the betterment of the lives of the people and the development of the state. Thus Kerala is an exception among the Indian states, having social indicators comparable with developed nations. Land reforms, social security measures for all sections of unorganised sector workers etc make Kerala a society socially advanced.
The LDF government that came to power in 1996 introduced a landmark ‘Peoples’ Plan’ programme, which is unique in India, in 1997. As per this programme, nearly one third of the plan fund is kept at the disposal of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and local bodies, with certain guidelines, thus making the decentralisation meaningful. The elected members and officials were given proper training in planning and the general public is also involved in the planning process, through the ‘gram sabhas’.
The government directed the PRIs that necessary allotments must be ensured for the infrastructure and distribution of good quality supplementary nutrition to the anganwadi centres. The DPCs (?) were instructed that unless this is ensured, other plan proposals should not be given permission.
At present, the procurement and supply of supplementary nutrition and extra supplementary nutrition to the anganwadi centres, improving the infrastructure, construction and repair of anganwadi buildings, providing toys, teaching aids for children, furniture such as chairs, almirahs, containers for food, supply of electricity and gas connection etc are the responsibility of the PRIs. Most of the Panchayats are allocating funds for anganwadi buildings, providing them drinking water, sanitation and electricity and gas connections. Many panchayats are providing milk, egg, bananas etc as additional nutrition to the beneficiaries in anganwadi centres. Block panchayats also are allocating such funds. In some blocks, the panchayat is allocating funds for lunch for anganwadi workers and helpers when they are called for meetings.
But the Panchayats in the state are not given the power to appoint anganwadi workers and helpers or take disciplinary action against them. The appointment is done by the selection board. Temporary appointment, transfer, disciplinary actions etc. are under the purview of the CDPO.
The PRIs and the anganwadi employees in the state work in co operation with one another. Anganwadi workers help in calling the meetings of the grama sabhas. For this extra work, the state government has issued orders providing for an additional remuneration of Rs150 to the anganwadi workers and Rs 75 to the helpers, through the PRIs. The panchayats in general help the anganwadi centres by providing better infrastructure and services.
Yet, there are some panchayats that try to make unwarranted interferences and harass the anganwadi employees. However, due to the strong presence of the Kerala Anganwadi Workers and Helpers’ Association (KAWHA), affiliated to AIFAWH, these issues could be solved and the anganwadi employees are protected.
There is a difference in the approach of the Congress (I) led UDF government and the CPI (M) led LDF government towards the ICDS and the anganwadi employees. The UDF, which was in power from 2001 to 2006 tried to retrench the anganwadi employees who attained 58 years. More than 5,500 employees were forced to leave their jobs. The Union took up the issue and through a historic struggle, could stop the retrenchment. The UDG government cut down the allocations to the panchayats, thus sabotaging the decentralisation process. In tune with their anti working class attitude union leaders were targeted and harassed. Most of the social security benefits given to the unorganised workers were made non functional. They tried to implement the World Bank dictated neo liberal policies in the ICDS, as directed by the UPA I government. The anganwadi employees under the leadership of Kerala Anganwadi Workers and Helpers’ Association fought these policies and played a crucial role in the campaigns of the trade union movement, against these neo liberal policies, during the UDF rule.
This helped the defeat of the UDF in 2006 assembly elections and the LDF getting a two-thirds majority. The increase in remuneration of the anganwadi workers and helpers was one of the promises implemented by the LDF government within three months of its assuming office. Kerala being a consumerist state, the LDF government of Kerala is facing a severe financial crunch due to the negative attitude of the central government towards the special problems of the state. But this has not deterred the LDF government in the state from going ahead with implementing the social welfare measures for the working people. The shops and establishment welfare fund, fishermen and fisheries workers debt relief package etc show this commitment. The Kerala government has made history by becoming the first state government, implementing pension for the anganwadi employees.