The Supreme Court on Monday held that anganwadi workers and helpers taking care of the nutrition needs of around 158 million children who were considered the “future resource of the country”, were entitled to gratuity, a basic social security measure.
A Bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and A.K. Oka rued how these workers and helpers, who performed a bouquet of vital services at the grassroots level and were often the bridge between the government and beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), were made to fight so hard and for so long for the recognition of their right to be paid gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.
The judgment came in an appeal filed by anganwadi workers and organisations represented by senior advocates Sanjay Parikh, P.V. Surendranath and advocate Subhash Chandran.
“Gratuity is a gesture to appreciate the efforts of a person towards the betterment, development and prosperity of an establishment and that is the reason for which gratuity is considered to be social security, and with passage of time, it has become a statutory obligation on the part of employers,” Justice Rastogi observed in the verdict.
The court underscored that it was time for the Centre and the States to “collectively consider” bettering the service conditions of anganwadi workers and helpers.
It warned that a lack of motivation among them would have a crippling effect on the multiple tasks they performed. A relook into their service conditions was necessary to ensure quality in the delivery of services and community participation.
Backbone of ICDS
Anganwadi workers and helpers served in disadvantaged areas and catered to the needs of underprivileged groups. They formed the backbone of the ICDS. “The time has come to find out modalities in providing the voiceless better service conditions commensurate to the nature of job discharged by them,” Justice Rastogi wrote in his opinion..
Not only children but also women benefited from the services provided by the anganwadi centres.
“Socialised childcare contributes to the liberation of women. It lightens the burden of looking after children, provides a potential source of remunerated employment for women and gives them an opportunity to build women’s organisations,” the court noted.
It said the ICDS deserved far greater attention in public policy. “The scheme acts as an “institutional mechanism for realisation of child and women rights. Yet these services are regarded as State largesse rather than as enforceable entitlements,” it observed in a 72-page judgment.