Thousands of Anganwadi and Mid-Day meal workers and pensioners hit the streets once again demanding the government to fulfill their long-pending demands. Two massive demonstrations were held in Chennai on Tuesday targeting the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) led state government.
The protesters demanded that 4.5 lakh vacancies be filled, the regularisation of 3.5 lakh employees with time-scale pay, providing gratuity of Rs five lakh at the time of retirement and a monthly pension of Rs 7,850.
The demonstration, led by the Tamil Nadu Mid-Day-Meal and Anganwadi Pensioners Union gathered outside the Panagal Building in Saidapet which houses the Social Welfare Department. The other demonstration led by the Tamil Nadu Nutritious Meal Workers Union was held outside the state guest house in Chepauk.
VOICES FROM THE PROTEST SITE
Anganwadi workers and pensioners have held several protests in district capitals over the past few months and mobilised as a final resort in the state capital. Leaders of respective unions spoke and reiterated their demands at protest site. Members of fraternal organisations also spoke in solidarity.
“We are stepping out onto the streets for protests every two months. Yet, our demands were not met and it is why we have called for a mass demonstration in Chennai,” said a district secretary of the nutritious meal workers union.
“Our salary is too less. Even after 36 years of the scheme, we, mid-day-meal workers, are in a very backward condition,” said one of the protesting Anganwadi workers.
“They (government) have defined us as part-time workers but we are working full time and we should be compensated with a proper salary and retirement benefits,” said Manimegalai, a protesting Mid-Day-meal worker.
“This government should provide us with the life-saving demand of time-based scale pay. Similarly, it should provide pension with family security. We are implementing this so-called ‘world-appreciated’ scheme; it is a benefit for the government because we are being cited to garner votes,” said the Theni district secretary of the nutritious meal workers’ union.
“If our state office bearers are not invited for talks and if our demands are not ensured, we will continue with our protests,” she added.
THE PLIGHT OF ANGANWADI PENSIONERS
At present, Mid-Day meal and Anganwadi pensioners receive a pittance of Rs 2,000 every month. The minimum pension fixed as per the Tamil Nadu Pension Rules, 1978 is Rs. 7,850 per month. Given that Anganwadi workers are not covered under the act but under the so-called special pension scheme they do not receive a pension similar to what government employees get.
The Anganwadi pensioners pointed out that Village Administrative Officers (VAOs), who also work under the special pension time-scale receive a monthly pension of Rs 6,750. The sum incorporates inflation and necessary medical benefits. Referring to this, Maayamalai, secretary of the pensioners unions, told Newsclick: “Don’t discriminate, isn’t everyone equal in front of the law? At least treat us equally with fellow special pension beneficiaries.”
A release by the Tamil Nadu Mid-Day-Meal and Anganwadi Pensioners Union read: “Pensioners have no basic livelihood security of food, clothing, shelter, drinking water and healthcare. After retirement they become dependent on their families. Many have been pushed to penury due to families disowning them and from mental ill-health.” It added that “pensioners do not even have funds for travelling to attain medical facilities. Neither do they have money for their last rites, they have become orphans.”
One of the district secretaries at the protest outside the Social Welfare department said that “mid-day-meal pensioners are unable to survive on Rs 2,000 per month. In some cases they are picking rags – paper and plastic bottles – to ensure food on their plates. This is the plight of us Mid-Day meal workers.”
Another protesting Anganwadi worker said: “We are very pained to see retired cooks and helpers who worked with can now be seen in temples and at street corners because they have no retirement benefits.”
BURNING THE SPECIAL PENSION SCHEME
The Social Welfare Minister had earlier promised to have a word with the Chief Minister and execute the demands of the Anganwadi and Mid-Day Meal workers. Given that the promises were not met, a call for massive demonstrations was given.
The agitating workers have stated that they would continue their protests if their demands were not met. If the demand of Rs 7,850 per month pension as per the Tamil Nadu Pension Rules, 1978 is not met, the pensioners’ union leaders have stated that they would burn copies of the Special Pension Scheme.