Relief for hawkers, civic volunteers, Asha team
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announced a one-time financial assistance for hawkers ahead of the festive season and also a salary hike for civic volunteers and Asha workers.
She also announced that Anganwadi workers would now get pension.
“Hawkers are very poor. Their shops have been shut for many days. Some are failing to arrange even one square meal a day. We will not be able to extend any big help, but we have got a list of 81,000 hawkers,” the chief minister said while speaking at the Puja coordination meeting in Netaji Indoor Stadium.
Mamata then turned towards her government’s finance secretary. “The finance secretary will be angry at me, but I am telling him that we will give hawkers Rs 2,000 each during the month of Puja so that they can at least buy new clothes for their children,” she said.
The Covid-induced lockdown has left many hawkers in severe financial distress. The hawkers have since been allowed to reopen their stalls but business has not yet picked up.
The hawkers’ community welcomed the chief minister’s decision, but said the actual number of hawkers in the city was far more than 81,000.
“The chief minister’s announcement will really help a lot of hawkers. Sales are still nearly 70 per cent less than what it was a month before Puja last year. We do not think sales will improve significantly till the suburban train services resume,” said Debraj Ghosh, a hawker union leader in Gariahat.
He said the count of 81,000 was based on a survey conducted by police among hawkers on pavements after the phased unlock started.
Mohammad Nasim Akhtar, a hawker at the Oberoi Grand Arcade who sells shirts, said the business had been severely hit. “I sold between 60 and 70 shirts a day ahead of Puja last year. This year I am selling six, eight or maximum 10 shirts a day. Our income has dipped badly,” he said.
Fears about not being able to maintain physical distance is driving buyers to stay away from buying from the hawkers.
The chief minister also announced salary hikes and retirement benefits for Asha and Anganwadi workers. Both categories of workers play an instrumental role in delivering public health services to the people.
“Asha (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers have visited nearly 36 crore houses. They have conducted the comorbidity survey, risking their lives. I am increasing the salary of Asha workers by Rs 1,000 from October 1,” Mamata said.
“The Anganwadi workers do a lot of work, too. They did not get any retirement benefit. After retirement, they will get Rs 3 lakh,” she went on to announce.
Civic volunteers, who assist cops in discharging a number of duties such as traffic management, have also been given a salary hike.
“Civic volunteers used to get Rs 3,000 when they were first inducted. I increased their salary to Rs 8,000. This time I am increasing their salary by Rs 1,000. This is for green police, civic volunteers and that category of people,” Mamata said.
She added that her government had already provided them with retirement benefits. “We are giving Rs 3 lakh pension benefit to civic volunteers,” she said.
Each of the announcements drew loud applause from Puja organisers who attended the meeting.
Mamata said at the meeting that 2,509 Durga pujas were held in Calcutta, more specifically the area looked after by Calcutta police.