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.