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West Bengal: Thousands of ICDS Workers Hold Protest Rally in Kolkata

ICDS workers submit 13-point charter of demands to state government, including release of funds for anganwadis.
West Bengal ICDS/aanganwadi Workers

There are approximately 10 lakh anganwadi workers in India, with West Bengal having 2,25,000 workers. (File photo)

Kolkata: Thousands of ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) workers held a rally at Salt Lake near Kolkata on Tuesday, demanding better wages and work conditions, among others.

Led by Paschimbanga Rajya ICDS Karmi Samiti, the workers submitted a 13-point demand charter to the Director, State Women and Child Care Department.

Salma Haque, 48, who has been an anganwadi worker for 10 years, told NewsClick, "We require cell phones for our work. Phone recharges have been eating into our wages. Neither do we get gratuity, nor are we permanent workers."

There are approximately 10 lakh anganwadi workers in India, with West Bengal having 2,25,000 workers. These workers have no work security. Their contribution to women and child nutrition has received praise from various quarters, including overseas. Yet, the Central government continues to remain silent on anganwadi workers' demands, such as better wages, retirement benefits like gratuity, etc.

Rekha Saha, another anganwadi worker told NewsClick, "We face hostility from the ruling party (Trinamool Congress) in the state for daring to unionise. "

She said because of withholding of funds since June, "in many cases, anganwadi workers are having to borrow money from local mahajans to run their centres."

Saha further said money from local money lenders is being used to feed mothers and children with essential things such as rice, vegetables, eggs etc.

"To purchase an egg, the government gives us Rs 5, but an egg costs Rs 6 in the local market. Similarly, for fuel charges, we get paid Rs 18 at a slab of up to 1-30 women, Rs 19 for 31-50 women, Rs 21 for 51-70 women and Rs 23 for 70 and above. Kerosene costs Rs 84/litre in the market, and at times when it's not available locally, we source it from the black market at Rs 100/litre. Where do we get the money to make these purchases? Many among us have put our jewellery at mortgage to save our jobs," Saha claimed.

In West Bengal, an Anganwadi worker gets Rs 8,250/month, while a helper makes Rs 6,300/month.

Ratna Dutta, general secretary, Paschimbanga Rajya ICDS Karmi Samiti, an organisation with a membership of over 70,000, told NewsClick that they are demanding that the Central government adhere to the 46th ILO (International Labour Organisation) Convention, give ICDS workers the stature of permanent workers and increase their pay to Rs 21,000/month, which is the minimum wage.

"W also demand gratuity for ICDS workers and that any ICDS worker who has to look after another ICDS Centre is paid at the Rs 50/month," Dutta added.

Madhumita Banerjee, a Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) leader, said, "Throughout the country, resource allocation in welfare works is reducing rapidly. It is being shrunk so that they can abolish it eventually. A unified movement is the need of the hour to thwart such attacks.”

She lamented that the government was weakening the next generation by neglecting pregnant mothers and child nutrition.

"The central government is not adhering to the Supreme Court judgements in the case of ICDS workers, ASHA, and mid-day meal projects. Both the state and Centre are guilty for this. In Gujarat, the ICDS workers led an inspiring fight, leading to their demands being met by the government," she said.

Accusing the government for working “only for the crony capitalists”, another leader said, “"In West Bengal, the state government employees are not getting their dues, and welfare budgets are shrinking in MGNREGA, education, health and social welfare projects."

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