A meeting with Chief Minister Siddarmaiah failed to convince thousands of anganwadi workers who pledged to continue their protest in the city. The protest by members of Karnataka State Anganwadi Workers’ Association entered the second day on the busy Sheshadri Road on Tuesday, with a majority of them spending the night on the streets.
The day was marked with visits from numerous political leaders, including Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy and leader of opposition Jagadish Shettar.
The issue also came up for discussion at the State Assembly. The anganwadi workers had arrived in large numbers to demand an increase in salaries - from around ₹6,000 currently to at least ₹10,000.
The leaders of the protest were invited to meet with Mr. Siddaramaiah to arrive at a consensus. According to S. Varlakshmi, president of the Anganwadi association, the State government had offered to meet on April 19, and no announcement on increasing honorarium could be done due to the model code of conduct enforced due to the by-elections at Nanjangud and Gundlupete.
Returning to the site of the protest, Ms. Varlakshmi asked the gathered if this resolution was acceptable. Overwhelmingly, the crowd disagreed, and voted to continue their protests until their demands were met.
At the protest, the anger against apathy of the government over years was evident. Jayamma (58), who is a helper at an Anganwadi at Hunsur, says despite having worked for over 35 years, she has little savings to show for. “Till a few years ago, I was getting less than ₹2,000. I will retire in two years, and I have no savings. We are made to work nine hours a day, but we earn lesser than minimum wage,” she says.
Though she claims to have participated in at least one protest annually for hikes, she believes the current protest will be the “last one”. “Before, we would come to the city, place our demands through protest and then leave. Now, we will not budge until we get minimum wage,” she says.
Over 20 lakh persons, primarily women, work in anganwadis to implement key schemes of the Centre and the State.
Meanwhile, at the assembly, a heated argument ensued when the opposition demanded a time slot for a debate on the issue.
Responding to this, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said that his government had been increasing the honorarium every year since coming to power. Turning the tables on the BJP, he said, the Centre had reduced allocation for ICDS in 2016, which hit the programme hard. The Centre and State share of ICDS earlier was 90:10 respectively. But, in 2016, Centre reduced its share to 60%. As a result, the burden on the State has gone up, yet we have increased honorarium, Mr. Siddaramaiah said.
He asked BJP members to show their commitment by urging the Centre to increase the allocation.
The Assembly was adjourned after opposition part members stormed the well demanding that the anganwadi workers’ demands be met. Legislative council member sat in dharna on this issue.