After four years of sustained struggle by millions of scheme workers, the Modi government — on the cusp of assembly elections in five states and the big 2019 general elections — has finally announced a hike in the remuneration paid to Anganwadi workers and ASHA workers.
On 11 September 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a “video bridge interaction” announced an increase of Rs. 1,500 per month for the “honorarium” paid to Anganwadi workers, an increase of Rs. 1,250 per month for mini-Anganwadi workers and a hike of Rs. 750 per month for the helpers. The announcement will be effective from October.
Modi also said Anganwadi workers and helpers using techniques such as Common Application Software (ICDS-CAS), would get additional incentives ranging from Rs. 250 to Rs. 500, “based on performance”.
As for ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers, Modi announced “the doubling of routine incentives given by the Union Government to ASHA workers”, along with insurance cover under Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana and Prime Minister Suraksha Bima Yojana.
However, even as the meagre hike was announced, the main demands of these women workers — who are not even recognised as “workers” for the convenient reason that they are employed under various ‘schemes’ run by the central government — have not been met.
Back in May 2013, the 45th session of the Indian Labour Conference (ILC) had demanded that the central government recognise the scheme workers as “workers” and that they be paid minimum wages not less than Rs. 18,000 per month, along with social security including monthly pension not less than Rs. 3000.
The Anganwadi workers — organised under the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH), affiliated to CITU, and under the joint platform of the central trade unions — have been pressing for these demands for years now.
On 17 January this year, lakhs of scheme workers took out a protest march in Delhi and submitted a memorandum of their demands to the Prime Minister — while observing an all-India trike.
In July, the AIFAWH ran a signature campaign whereby it collected nearly 3 crore signatures from beneficiaries supporting these long-pending demands.
On 5th September, the massive Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally saw the participation of nearly 50,000 Anganwadi workers and helpers from across the country. Speaking to Newsclick, AR Sindhu, general secretary of AIFAWH, pointed out, “Over the last four years, the government refused to increase the remuneration or heed our other demands. It is because of the consistent struggles waged by the workers that the government was finally compelled to take this decision. And the fact that this is a pre-poll strategy cannot be ruled out.”
However, even this increase is quite meagre, Sindhu said.
“The last announcement for hike in pay for Anganwadi workers and helpers was made back in 2011. At that time, the remuneration was increased by Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 750. So this increase is actually very little, taking into account the price rise since then, etc.”
Sindhu also pointed out that under the ICDS, fund sharing pattern of 60:40 between the central government and the state governments, respectively. So, after the latest announcement, the actual increased amount that the BJP-led NDA government will be paying per month is Rs. 900, Rs. 750 and Rs. 450, respectively. Sindhu said it has happened in the past that some state governments have “adjusted” their share of the hike in the amount they are already paying to the workers.
Besides, Sindhu pointed out that the “Modi government is the only government that has cut down the budgetary allocations for these crucial schemes (such as ICDS, NHM, etc).”
She said in most states, the wages of anganwadi workers and helpers have been pending and the supply of nutrition had to be stopped for the past 3 to 6 months because of paucity of funds.
“We demand that the decisions of the 45th Indian Labour Conference on scheme workers be immediately implemented — minimum wages Rs. 18,000 per month, recognition as workers, pension and social security,” Sindhu said.
“We also demand that the government scrap its decision on Direct Benefit Transfer in ICDS. Besides, beneficiaries are being excluded in the name of Aadhaar-linking. The government cannot ignore this.”
She said the Modi government has also been trying to privatise these schemes, for example in the mid-day meal scheme by involving private companies and corporates.
A press statement issued by AIFAWH congratulated the workers on this victory, while adding, “We call upon the anganwadi workers and helpers throughout the country to be prepared for more militant struggles for our basic rights in the coming days, including the two-day general strike as announced by the central trade unions.”
The statement said that “the basic questions of making the (ICDS) scheme permanent to ensure the right of every child and mother to food, health and education and the right of the workers for minimum wages and pension have not been addressed. Modi has not made it clear that how much additional funds he is going to allocate to ICDS.”
“We reiterate our resolve to fight against the policies of Modi government winding up and privatising the schemes providing basic services to the people,” it added.
There are around 27 lakh Anganwadi, mini-Anganwadi workers and helpers under the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS) in the country — providing essential care-giving services to children from the most economically and socially deprived backgrounds. They take care of new and expecting mothers as well as the infants’ supplementary nutrition, healthcare, pre-school education, etc.
Similarly, ASHAs under the National Health Mission (NHM) are critical to the health of pregnant women, identifying them and ensuring they receive the medical care they need. They also ensure these pregnant women receive institutional delivery, which requires them to accompany the women in labour at odd hours in the day or night.