In Maharashtra alone, over a hundred workers and helpers who began working for the Centrally-sponsored Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) since its inception in 1975, have retired with empty pockets and a bleak future. This October the ICDS will have completed 37 years. Offering no job security despite years of service, payment below minimum wage and no pension benefits, the Maharashtra government has left Anganwadi staff in the lurch for years. A group of ICDS workers and helpers in Dharavi simply do not wish to retire, said Shubha Shamim, State secretary Anganwadi Karmachari Sanghatana (AKS), affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

“They are asking why they should retire when the government refuses to recognise them as workers. If they are not workers then there can be no retirement,” said Ms. Shamim.

Employed on a temporary basis and taking home a meagre honorarium of Rs. 4,050 and Rs. 2,000 respectively, the nature of service of workers and helpers gives the government a convenient excuse to keep them away from employment benefits.

Ms. Shamim said the State Finance department had rejected proposals by the unions to given them a pension amount of Rs. 1 lakh and Rs. 75,000 for workers and helpers respectively citing the non-permanent nature of their service.

“Giving them retirement benefits would call into question the issue of all other workers employed on an honorarium basis,” says Varsha Gaikwad, Minister, Women and Child Development department, under which the ICDS scheme is implemented in Maharashtra.

Ms. Gaikwad said that the issue of Anganwadi workers was still to come up before the State cabinet.

At a recently held State-wide conference, AKS called into question the low priority accorded to the programme that delivers key services for the benefit of the children of this country.

The scheme suffers from paucity of funds and Anganwadi staff have to wait for three to four months before they can receive their honorariums. Grants for supplementary nutrition also get delayed, in some instances by even six months.

State should matchCentre’s contributions

“ICDS has not been given proper importance in planning although it has been running for more than 36 years. The government should recognise it as a permanent activity. Moreover, the States have to contribute only 10 per cent towards the services. We demand that the States should match the Centre’s contribution, which will not only improve supplementary nutrition, but also help increase the pay of Anganwadi workers,” said Ms. Shamim.

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