In an arbitrary move, the Uttar Pradesh government forced hundreds of Anganwadi and mini-Anganwadi workers, above the age of 62, into retirement, without any prior notice. The decision has been implemented in 62 districts of the state, including Ballia, Farrukhabad, Aligarh and Hathras. A letter informing the same has been sent to Sarika Mohan, Director, Bal Vikas Pustahar Department (ICDS).
Employees unions across the state have raised concerns about the sudden removal of the elderly women workers, citing the state government's own guidelines that mandate a medical evaluation before termination.
Dilip Shukla, Vice-President of the Anganwadi Employees Union, Uttar Pradesh, an affiliate of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), told NewsClick that the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) had invited applications for recruitment to the post of Anganwadi helpers in various departments of Uttar Pradesh, on May 8.
“The District Programme Officers (DPO) were told to prepare a list with details of all Anganwadi workers who were 62 years of age and above. On the instructions of the government, the DPO Farrukhabad circulated a roster for the generation of data of Anganwadi workers who have completed 62 years of age, in the district. After the circular was issued, the workers assumed that the state government might have considered their proposal to include Anganwadi workers and assistants under the ambit of the pension scheme, or will give them access to benefits like gratuity. But we were shocked when the government forcibly retired them," he added.
An Allahabad High Court order from 2013 directed the state government to frame rules pertaining to the selection of workers under the (ICDS) scheme. According to the state government’s rules for the appointment of Anganwadi workers or helpers, those above the age of 60 can be dispensed with if they are found to be unfit for work, only after a medical examination.
Shukla explained that the criteria for recruitment were formulated in such a way that those women who were below the poverty line were to be given the first priority in recruitment. It was done “so that they could support their families and become self-reliant, but the objective was forgotten and Anganwadi workers have been working in an extremely pitiable condition. Now, at the age of 62, the government is forcibly retiring them without any pension. How will they survive at this age?" asked Shukla.
An Anganwadi worker from Hathras district, who has been retired, objected to their dismissal, which had been done without prior notice, she said. On the condition of anonymity, she told NewsClick that if the government considers Anganwadi workers and helpers as state employees, and that if they are retired at the age of 62, “then we should also be given a minimum pension, gratuity and other facilities that employees of the state government can avail. And if the government is getting rid of us, thinking of us as social workers, then it cannot do so unless and until we are not declared medically unfit," he added. She said that if the retirement process is not halted within 15 days, they will begin a mass hunger strike at home, and hit the road later.
The Uttar Pradesh Workers Front, in a statement issued on June 16, has extended its full support to the struggles of the Anganwadi workers and helpers in the state. They have demanded minimum wages and retirement benefits, including pension and gratuity, to all Anganwadi workers and helpers. The Workers Front has written to the Principal Secretary of the concerned department, asking it to concede to the workers’ demands.
Dinkar Kapoor, President of the UP Workers Front, said that “The authorities are saying that their removal is based on a 2012 government order, but that was invalidated by Allahabad High Court in 2013, which asked the state to issue new rules and guidelines. However, the state government failed to issue a new policy, and is now using the 2012 order again. This will take away the constitutional right to a pension and gratuity from elderly workers.”
"In response to a writ petition filed in Allahabad High Court in connection with recruitment in 2003 and 2007, the government, in its submission in 2010, acknowledged that there was no age limit for rendering services in Anganwadi. If she is physically unable to work, she can be removed from service by giving a show-cause notice and should be given an opportunity to be heard. Even in 2013, the then Director of ICDS, in its order, cancelled all the earlier orders, saying that it is the harshest penalty to remove Anganwadis from service. Therefore it is necessary for proper justice to give Angawadis, an opportunity to be heard before they are removed from service. But the current Yogi government did not follow it and dispensed off workers without giving them show-cause notice and hearing (sic),” Kapoor’s letter said.
Hailed as ‘Corona Warriors’
The elderly Anganwadi workers and helpers, who have been working relentlessly with the government and going door-to-door to create awareness about COVID-19, have been hailed as 'Corona Warriors' by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ironically, it is they who are being removed by the UP government. Working at the front-lines, these women are also from the most vulnerable sections of society.
Disappointed about the government’s move, Meenakshi Khare, an Anganwadi worker and acting president of Anganwadi Employees Union said: “An Anganwadi worker earns around Rs 5,500 per month – which is Rs 183 per day – less than what daily-wagers make. Two years ago, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had promised to give us Rs 1,500 as 'protsahan rashi' for our hard work, but he has not given us a single rupee," Khare added, saying that the government has been using their services to deal with COVID-19 but that it does not consider them human.