Anganwadi laggard stirs

Centre hikes pay, still trails many states

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 12.09.18
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Modi interacts with the anganwadi workers. (PTI)

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government on Tuesday decided to increase the honorarium the Centre pays anganwadi workers and accredited social health activists besides those working as auxiliary nurse midwives in a move trade unions saw as an election-eve sop to cap brewing discontent.

The unions have been demanding the regularisation of these workers and helpers who last got a hike in 2011.

State governments of all political persuasions have felt the heat of these protests often enough to raise the honorarium for the workers and helpers who form the backbone of the country's early childhood care and the primary health system. But the central allocation has remained static.

With budget cuts in the last three fiscals, the central share has been slow to come by, resulting in reduced payments to the workers.

Prime Minister Modi announced the hike in honorarium during a nearly hour-and-a-half-long interaction through video-conferencing with the women workers and helpers across the country. The raised honorarium will be paid from October onwards in what he pitched as a Diwali gift.

BJP president Amit Shah tweeted about the hike soon after, calling it unprecedented.

Modi said those receiving Rs 3,000 from the Centre would now get Rs 4,500, while those getting Rs 2,200 would receive Rs 3,500. The honorarium for anganwadi helpers has been increased too, from Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,250.

Another key announcement pertained to zero-premium insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh each from the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana and the Prime Minister's Suraksha Bima Yojana. What he did not make clear was whether this would be over and above the existing insurance cover they have.

The existing insurance policy covers them for Rs 30,000 in case of natural death and Rs 75,000 for accidental death.

Not one of the anganwadi workers selected to speak to the Prime Minister raised the issue of their wages or demanded their regularisation during the interaction. Most narrated some experience at work or told him how smartphones had helped them, providing the Prime Minister the opportunity to wax eloquent about some of his pet projects, including Digital India.

The hike in honorarium, according to the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) - an affiliate of the CPM-aligned Citu - is a big achievement of the workers' struggles, "considering the anti-labour policies of the government".

Many AIFAWH members had participated in the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Rally in the capital last Wednesday and the federation has been waging similar battles across the country with their main demands - regularisation as workers, minimum wages and pension.

Over a year back they had sent a representation with more than three crore signatures to the Prime Minister.

"Modi Government, which is now pretending to be the champion of combating nutrition, has been continuously cutting down the budget allocation for ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services). Even today, in most of the states the wages of anganwadi workers and helpers are pending and the nutrition supply is stopped for last 3-6 months due to the lack of funds," the AIFAWH said in a statement.

The federation has not been alone in demanding regularisation of anganwadi workers and helpers. The New Trade Union Initiative too has been demanding their recognition as "workers" and not volunteers and their regularisation in Grades III and IV of government employment, respectively, with commensurate salary, benefits and increments besides pension and medical/earned leave.

Among the states and Union territories, the honorarium for anganwadi workers is the highest in Puducherry where the sum total they get is Rs 19,840, of which the central payout is Rs 3,000.

The helpers in the Union territory get Rs 13,330. Telangana (Rs 10,500) comes a distant second followed by Haryana (Rs 10,286) and Kerala (Rs 10,000).

Bihar pays the lowest - Rs 3,750 to anganwadi workers and Rs 1,875 to the helpers, with the Centre pitching in with the bulk of the amount, Rs 3,000 and Rs 1,500, respectively.