Andhra Pradesh: Anganwadi workers continue strike even after invocation of essential services act

Over 1 lakh anganwadi workers and helpers have been on strike for 30 days demanding a hike in salary, regularisation of services, and retirement benefits

The workers have demanded that the Jagan Mohan Reddy administration recognise them as formal government employees (photo: National Herald archives)
The workers have demanded that the Jagan Mohan Reddy administration recognise them as formal government employees (photo: National Herald archives)

NH Digital

Over 1 lakh anganwadi (healthcare) workers (AWW) and helpers across Andhra Pradesh have been on a strike for 30 days demanding a hike in salary, regularisation of services and retirement benefits. The Andhra Pradesh government has invoked the Essential Services and Maintenance Act 1971 to categorise anganwadi workers in the state as “essential workers”, but they have continued to protest.

The workers, who have been on strike since 12 December, have demanded that the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led administration recognise them as formal government employees, increase their wages from the current Rs 11,500 per month to Rs 26,000, provide them with gratuity benefits, and increase their retirement age to 62 in line with other government departments.

They have alleged that that a ‘raw deal’ was being meted out to both anganwadi workers and helpers in the state, causing about 1.06 lakh women working in 55,607 centres to go on an indefinite strike.

The state gave a deadline for agitating anganwadi workers and helpers and appealed to them to rejoin their duties on 8 January, failing which action would be taken against them. Instead, to intensify their agitation, the staff decided to stage a ‘jail bharo’ (fill the jails) protest on 9 January, also threatening to call for a statewide bandh after Sankranti if their 'genuine demands' were not met.

AP Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union state general-secretary K Subbaravamma denounced the government’s pressure on the workers and helpers to rejoin the irduties, and asserted that the strike would continue until all their genuine demands are met.

The 1.3 million anganwadi workers and 1.2 million helpers are the foot soldiers of the Integrated Child Development Services scheme, launched in 1975 to improve health, nutrition and education of children up to the age of 6 years, and pregnant and lactating women.

An anganwadi centre normally covers a population of 1,000 in both rural and urban areas and 700 in tribal areas, and is run by an AWW and a helper. Across India, over 70 per cent of children are enrolled in anganwadis.

In addition to feeding the children and beginning non-formal early school education, AWWs and helpers are required to weigh each child and record the weight, maintain health cards for children under 6, carry out family surveys, organise supplementary nutritional feeding of children, expectant and nursing women, visit homes of children to educate parents about nutrition, assist PHC staff to implement the health component of the scheme, and help ANMs (auxiliary nurse midwives) administer medicines (vitamins and folic acid) at the centres.

The list of duties is not clearly outlined and there are apprehensions of extra workload under the New Education Policy (NEP).

Andhra Pradesh is not the only state where workers have held protests in recent weeks. Nearly 2 lakh AWWs are also protesting in Maharashtra, where they have been on strike since 4 December. They marched to Azad Maidan on 4 January after talks with chief minister Eknath Shinde failed.

In Maharashtra, the workers have been demanding Rs 18,000 honorarium, pension, and government employee status. They are also seeking nutritious food for 65 lakh children, whose per day budget for two meals has remained static at just Rs 8 per child since 2014.

The AWWs are demanding an increase in meal prices, proposing Rs 24 per meal for severely malnourished children, and Rs 16 per meal for others. They are also demanding an increase in the rent for anganawadis to afford spacious rooms as many of them are functioning from congested rooms.

In Bihar, anganwadi workers called off a 71-day strike and returned to work on 9 December after chief minister Nitish Kumar promised to fulfil their demands. The workers had demanded recognition as formal government employees and an increase in wages. Last week, Kumar had said services of more than 18,000 anganwadi workers, terminated on account of their taking part in a statewide strike, would will be restored.

In April 2022, the Supreme Court said anganwadi workers and helpers were entitled to gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act 1972. A bench of justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka said because of the provisions of the National Food Security Act 2013 and section 11 of the Right to Education Act, anganwadi centres also perform statutory duties.

“The government resolution dated 25 November, 2019, which prescribes duties of AWWs and AWHs, does not lay down that their job is a part-time job. Considering the nature of duties specified, it is full-time employment,” said the bench.

Justice Rastogi said it was time the Union and state governments ensured better service conditions for anganwadi workers and helpers, commensurate with the duties they discharge.

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