Eye on Ongoing Monsoon Session, Anganwadi Caregivers Begin 4-day ‘Mahapadav’ Near Parliament
Anganwadi caregivers from across 18 States reach the national capital on Tuesday. Image clicked by Ronak Chhabra.
New Delhi: Implement the Supreme Court judgment on gratuity; pay minimum wages along with provisions for social security; and, above all, recognise "our labour" as "equivalent to some employment."
As the second week of the Monsoon Session of Parliament continues, with the Opposition locking horns with the government over multiple issues, these were among the demands that were raised by Anganwadi workers and helpers on Tuesday, as the latter begin their four-day 'Anganwadi Adhikar Mahapadav' barely a kilometre away from the Sansad Bhawan.
Covering large distances, hundreds of Anganwadi caregivers reach the national capital at the call of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) – affiliated All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH).
According to them, while the nation is set to celebrate its 75th anniversary of Independence next month, more than 27 lakhs Anganwadi caregivers in the country, under the Central government's erstwhile Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) – now known as Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 scheme – remain bereft of minimum wages, pension, and other social security benefits.
What's more, despite years of struggle, the work of this all-female workforce is still classified as "honorary" and not "equivalent to some employment," the caregivers' federation said on Tuesday.
Under the scheme, the caregivers are tasked to deliver basic nutrition, health, and Early Childhood Care and Education services to its beneficiaries, including pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children under six years of age.
Implement the SC Judgment on Gratuity
"Hundreds of Anganwadi workers and helpers, travelling from over 18 States across the country, joined the Mahapadav on its first day," Usha Rani, national president, AIFAWH, told NewsClick on Tuesday, adding that more will participate in the next three days.
"The Anganwadi women will be staying put here for four days near the Parliament to see how many of their respective states' MPs raise the matter concerning the Anganwadi workforce during the ongoing Monsoon Session," Rani said.
AR Sindhu, national general secretary, AIFAWH, said on Tuesday that the most immediate demand of the Anganwadi caregivers is to press the Central government to take measures to implement nationwide the Supreme Judgment on gratuity for Anganwadi workers and helpers.
In April this year, a Bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and AK Oka held that Anganwadi caregivers were entitled to gratuity, a sum of money provided as a token of appreciation to an employee for their services at the time of retirement or resignation, under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.
The 72-page judgement, which also asked the Centre and the states to "take serious note of their plight" as the all-women workforce is paid meagre remuneration despite performing a series of vital services at the grassroots level, was delivered in an appeal filed by the Anganwadi workers and organisations including CITU-affiliated Gujarat State Anganwadi Karamchari Sangh.
With the four-day 'Mahapadav', the Anganwadi caregivers' federation is pressing the MPs to extend their support to "our just and legitimate" demands, Sindhu told NewsClick.
"We have also demanded to meet Union Minister Smriti Irani (who holds the charge of the Ministry of Women & Child Development). However, we haven't heard anything from her office's end yet," she said.
Farmers, Trade Unions Extend Support
On Tuesday, their demonstration was launched, and the Anganwadi caregivers were also joined by farmer leaders, trade unionists, and MPs from at least one state. Among them, many speakers laid out their charges against the Narendra Modi – led Central government, which, they feared, is set to "privatise the ICDS" by "weakening the scheme through inadequate budget allocation" and "involving corporates or NGOs."
Trade unionists, farmer leaders address the gathering on Tuesday. Image clicked by Ronak Chhabra
"The Anganwadi centres are where the children of workers and farmers receive proper nutrition and early childhood care, and unsurprisingly, the Modi government wants to continue with its anti-people policies by weakening the ICDS scheme," said All India Kisan Sabha general secretary Hannan Mollah, while addressing the gathering on Tuesday.
Tapan Sen, national general secretary, CITU, demanded the scheme workers, including Anganwadi caregivers, to be brought under the coverage of labour legislation.
While speaking to Newsclick, he said, "The struggle of Anganwadi women in the country is also providing crucial energy to the fight waged by the other workers' union. Which is why all the workers in the country stand together with these women in their fight to get their labour recognised."
"The Central government must urgently better the working conditions of Anganwadi workers and helpers in the country by implementing the recommendations of 45th and 46th Indian Labour Conferences," said Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala Elamaram Kareem, while speaking to NewsClick on Tuesday at the Anganwadi caregivers' demonstration.
Asked whether the issue will also be raised inside the Parliament, the senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) rued how the house proceedings are "not functioning smoothly", as the government is not allowing discussions over increased price rise and GST on packaged food, among others.
"Once the MPs are allowed to raise issues in Parliament, the matter of Anganwadi workers and helpers will be brought up," he said.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, slogans were also raised by protesting Anganwadi caregivers who demanded the immediate reinstatement of 975 workers and helpers in Haryana and 991 in Delhi, who were "illegally terminated" earlier this year by their respective state governments "for participating in strike actions."
"The federation will also hold a review meeting at the protest site itself on the third day of the 'Mahapadav' to announce the future course of action," Sindhu of AIFAWH told NewsClick on Tuesday.
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