Over 20,000 Anganwadi centres in Madhya Pradesh are now staring at a shutdown due to their inability to pay rent and conduct day to day operations. The centres have been facing a major financial crunch for an extended period of time, however, Kamal Nath’s government has not paid any heed to the issue. The Congress had made the issue a major poll plank in the state before the Assembly elections in 2018, but after coming to power has failed to live up to its promises. The Madhya Pradesh government allocates around Rs. 62 crore annually to pay the rent of the Anganwadi centres. However, the state government's finance department has only released Rs. 20 crore of the allocated funds so far, according to the state Women and Child Development Minister Imarti Devi.
The state government website statistics have unearthed the state of affairs of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) in the state. The state has a total of 97,000 Anganwadi and mini Anganwadi centres. Out of which 29,248 centres are rented. The failure to pay rent could lead to the shutting down of approximately 26,000 centres. The condition of the spaces can be understood by the fact that over 50,000 of these centres do not have boundary walls. To add to the difficulties in their effective functioning, 64,000 Anganwadi centres do not have electricity.
Perhaps the most glaring statistic is the fact that the ICDS centres which focus on childcare before the age of three and are aimed at combating malnourishment do not have creches in 93,000 centres of the total 97,000.
Mobilising on these issues, Anganwadi workers in the state will be holding massive protests and agitations across Madhya Pradesh on July 10. The Anganwadi workers are also planning a nationwide movement on the same day against the Modi government.
The activists working with the workers have been alleging that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress are playing politics with the lives and the rights of children and thousands of workers. Speaking to NewsClick, Kishori Verma of Anganwadi Workers’ and Helpers’ Union in the state said, “The financial crunch has been ongoing for years now. There are places that are having to do without payments of rent sometimes for the past eight months or even a year and a half in many places. Not being able to run the centres for these durations is extremely common in the region, especially in areas such as Bhind.”
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She added, “The BJP which ruled the state for the last fifteen years is making this an ugly tug of war by blaming the Congress for the inability to release funds. However, this is far from the truth, the system of Anganwadi is crumbling because of the apathy from both the parties.”
The issues of the centres go beyond the inability of the centres to afford rent. Kishori added, “A larger issue is the discrepancies in wages that the workers receive and the intention of the government to privatise these centres. In the state, workers are paid Rs. 7,000 while the central government gives Rs. 10,000, however the flow of money is never regular, which adversely affects the workers as well as the conditions of the centres.”
Over 20,000 such centres don't have proper toilets, while 47,000 centres don't have kitchen facilities. Over 75,000 Anganwadi centres lack basic seating arrangements. Over 64,000 centres don't have adequate provision of electricity. In around 15 districts of the state over 1,100 posts of Anganwadi workers and 1,300 posts of Anganwadi women assistants are lying vacant, casting a shadow on the overall functioning of centres in those districts.
Previously, AR Sindhu, General Secretary of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers had told NewsClick, “This is the first time that a government is leading an unprecedented attack on the social welfare of the people by aiming to privatise the essential Integrated Child Development Scheme services and by bringing in anti-worker measures such as the direct cash transfer scheme giving way to private players. The workers are demanding regular wages and pensions, and more importantly, social security. However, the government, instead of doing anything substantial for the workers, is only aiming to repress their voices.”
The Modi government had in October promised the workers increased minimum wages on the occasion of Diwali, however, nothing was implemented on the ground. In keeping with his trend of false promises, the central government in March declared that the minimum wage of Anganwadi workers and helpers have been increased. However, no concrete arrangements were made for the same in the union budget which have compelled the workers to take to the streets yet again.
Also read: “Betrayal of Promises Made to Anganwadi Workers Will Cost Modi 2019”