Deny­ing their due

Ac­cred­ited health ac­tivists and anganwadi work­ers are not given their right­ful place and due. The NDA gov­ern­ment’s an­nounce­ment hik­ing their hon­o­raria is seen as an elec­tion sop at best.


ON Septem­ber 11, in what ap­peared to be a rou­tine af­fair typ­i­cal of the out­reach pro­grammes of the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment, a video con­fer­ence was or­gan­ised be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and work­ers of the In­te­grated Child De­vel­op­ment Scheme (ICDS), ac­cred­ited so­cial health ac­tivists (ASHA) and aux­il­iary nurse mid­wives. Modi an­nounced a hike in the Cen­tral con­tri­bu­tion to the hon­o­rar­ium given to anganwadi work­ers, mini anganwadi work­ers and helpers, which in­cluded a dou­bling of the in­cen­tives to ASHA work­ers and helpers who were ad­di­tion­ally promised free in­sur­ance cover un­der the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s two main flag­ship in­sur­ance schemes, the Prime Min­is­ter’s Jee­van Jy­oti Yo­jana and the Prime Min­is­ter’s Su­rak­sha Bima Yo­jana.

All these an­nounce­ments made dur­ing the video con­fer­ence were ex­pected to be im­ple­mented from Oc­to­ber. In keep­ing with the drive to push for digi­ti­sa­tion, the Prime Min­is­ter promised ad­di­tional in­cen­tives to ICDS work­ers and helpers who used com­mon ap­pli­ca­tion soft­ware. Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial re­lease, he ap­pre­ci­ated the ef­forts of these work­ers in the Poshan Ab­hiyaan (the Na­tional Nu­tri­tion Mis­sion) tar­geted at re­duc­ing mal­nu­tri­tion.

The tim­ing of the an­nounce­ment, ahead of the forth­com­ing Lok Sabha elec­tion and the Assem­bly elec­tions in some States, was not a co­in­ci­dence. One cat­e­gory that was left out of the pol­icy largesse was the 25 lakh mid­day meal work­ers— cooks and helpers—who con­tin­ued to get a measly sum of Rs.1,000 a month, and that too for only 10 months a year. Their hon­o­rar­ium was fixed in 2009 and has not been re­vised. This cat­e­gory of work­ers at­tended nearly 12 lakh schools. In 2013, the United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance (UPA) gov­ern­ment promised to in­crease their hon­o­rar­ium by Rs.1,000. The gov­ern­ment changed at the Cen­tre in 2014, and the sta­tus of the work­ers has re­mained the same since then. “They are them­selves mal­nour­ished. How can they be ex­pected to feed them­selves and their chil­dren with such a pal­try amount?” asked Jai Bhag­wan, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Mid­day Meal Work­ers Fed­er­a­tion.

Mid­day meal work­ers, ASHAS and ICDS work­ers are not en­ti­tled to Em­ploy­ees’ State In­sur­ance (ESI) or Em­ploy­ees Prov­i­dent Fund (EPF) ben­e­fits al­though they work un­der var­i­ous gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. “It could have recog­nised them as work­ers, paid them min­i­mum wages, cov­ered them un­der the EPF and the ESI and then claimed that the gov­ern­ment has gen­er­ated de­cent em­ploy­ment. But it has not done this,” said Dr K. He­malata, pres­i­dent of the Cen­tre of In­dian Trade Unions (CITU).

The hikes ranged from Rs.750 to Rs.1,500, fall­ing short of the guar­an­teed min­i­mum wage, which has been one of the long-stand­ing de­mands of these work­ers. The grandiose an­nounce­ment did not re­veal the fact that the Cen­tre would be pay­ing only 60 per cent of the in­creased hon­o­rar­ium and the State gov­ern­ments

AT AN ANGANWADI cen­tre at Venu­gopal Na­gar in Kham­mam. Mid­day meal work­ers, ASHAS and ICDS work­ers are not en­ti­tled to ESI or EPF cover.

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