Government on Election mode: Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers do not need Charity

In a video conference with Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers from across the country the Prime minister yesterday recognised their contribution in building a strong and healthy nation and announced a Rs. 1500 increase in the monthly honorarium of Anganwadi workers, a Rs. 1300 increase for those in Mini-Angawadis and a Rs. 750 increase for Anganwadi helpers. In the case of ASHA workers, the base incentive paid by the central government is Rs. 1500 which has now been doubled. However, there is no clarity on how much an ASHA and an ANM worker would make in a month even after this as their income is dependent on the low incentives for each of the tasks they perform.

This increased ‘honorarium’ is far from what the Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers across the country have been demanding and struggling for. This increase in pay continues to be in the form of an ‘honorarium’ and not a wage thereby not recognising the Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers as ‘workers’ despite being the base on which the entire delivery of the health services of the country stands on. While admitting that their work has “improve(d) the delivery of health and nutrition services and achieve(d) the goal of POSHAN Abhiyan – reduction of malnutrition in the country”, the government continues to claim that these workers are volunteers and are not integral to the delivery of health services. The honorariums are lower than the lowest minimum wage in the states. The Supreme Court very clearly has stated that if an employer cannot pay the minimum wage, it does not have the right to exist. The government as the employer is violating this principle with impunity. The unions of the Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers have been demanding for recognition as government employees with commensurate pay and benefits and successive governments have consistently ignored this demand.

This is a government that has failed workers in every possible way in the last four years. The protests of Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers across the country has signalled to the government that the struggle will continue despite the attacks on them. While some newspapers are calling this a ‘Diwali Bonanza’ this initiative of the government is a feeble effort to reach out to the base vote of about 60 lakh Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers across the country before the next election to buy them off with this token increase in income for the first time since they came to power. In this four years, while cost of essential goods and services have increased, the honorariums of the Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers have not. This increase is also aimed at silencing the dissent of the workers in which they failed despite invoking the MESMA and premature retirement of about 1350 Anganwadi workers in Maharashtra during the last month long strike. The sheer power of the workers struggle that followed forced government to withdraw both MESMA and reinstate the workers and increase the honorarium and other benefits in some states through state allocation.

The Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers cannot be bought over with charity. We want our rights as Government employees. NTUI salutes the struggling Anganwadi-ASHA-ANM workers who despite being kept at poverty wages have sustained the militant struggle for their rights while ensuring maternal care and better nutrition for children under 6 years who are our future.

N Vasudevan