Why Karnataka Anganwadi workers want to return 64,340 mobiles to govt
When workers protest, typically, tools are downed and shutters are closed. In Karnataka, Anganwadi workers are going for a unique mode of protest. Taking issue with the neglect of their longstanding demands, they will soon return 64,340 mobile phone sets to the state government.
The Karnataka State Anganwadi Workers’ Association (KSAWA) has decided to return the mobile phones the government had allotted to the workers four years back. The KSAWA has set July 10 as the deadline for the government to fulfill its demands, failing which all Anganwadi workers will return the mobile phones to the Child Development Project Officers (CDPOs) at the taluka level that day. This will coincide with Anganwadi workers staging protests across all talukas of the state to press for their demands.
There are 62,580 Anganwadi and 3,331 mini-Anganwadi centres in Karnataka, where more than 1 lakh women, including 66,000 teachers and 60,000 helpers, are employed. Apart from their regular work of initiating poor children into pre-schooling, these Anganwadi centres carry out various welfare programmes for children and women, such as the child nutrition programme, at the grassroots level.
The Anganwadi workers are also tasked with conducting health surveys, carrying out census-related work, and submitting the data thus collated to government authorities.
Subsisting on a fixed monthly honorarium as meagre as Rs 10,000, these workers have no social security whatsoever and their efforts go largely unnoticed irrespective of governments. It is not surprising they have been demanding various concessions from the governments in the state to improve their lot.
One of the main reasons for their decision to return the mobiles is the incompatibility of the instruments with the kind of work they carry out.
According to S Varalakshmi, president of the KSAWA, Anganwadi workers were given the mobiles four years ago, under the Poshan Abhiyan scheme of the Union government. It is mandatory for all Anganwadi workers to update everyday activities of their centres on Common Application Service (CAS), a national portal of the Poshan Abhiyan Scheme, using mobile phones.
However, these phones are not in good working condition. With a limited internet speed at 2G, the workers face problems when they upload the survey data, reports, photographs and other information they collect under various government schemes, Varalakshmi said.
Speaking to The Federal, Varalakshmi said: “The old LG and Samsung phone sets given four years ago do not support the kind of work they carry out, like surveys and other tasks various government agencies assign to them. It is almost impossible to upload the data and content. Then, the working condition is so bad that officials often threaten the Anganwadi workers of salary cuts.”
“We have brought this issue to the previous government’s notice several times but to no avail. We have sought the new Congress government’s intervention and have decided to return the phone sets on July 10 if the government does not resolve the issue before that day,” she said. “We will stage protests at the taluka level in the state, while all our workers will return the phone sets to the taluka CDPO,” she added. Varalakshmi also heads the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.
Resentment over workload
Anganwadi workers have to upload the details of children enrolled with their respective centres, their attendance, food distribution and activities they conduct, among others, in the Poshan Tracker App. The workers have been demanding replacement of these outdated phone sets to help them conduct their work smoothly, without any hindrance.
Besides, the Anganwadi workers have been demanding that they should not be tasked with the work of other departments – the health surveys, for instance, which are conducted by the Women and Child Development Ministry. They have been demanding immediate release of six-month rent arrears of Anganwadi Centres running in rented premises in most districts. There are one-and-a-half-year rent arrears pending for Bidar district alone.
Their other demand is the provision of Rs 5,000 in monthly pension to retired Anganwadi workers. The state government had revised salaries in 2019. Salaries of Anganwadi workers went up from Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000, mini Anganwadi workers from Rs 4,750 to Rs 6,000 and Anganwadi helpers from Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000. Though the then BJP government had agreed to provide gratuity to Anganwadi workers, it did not implement the same.
The KSAWA is also demanding the implementation of the 7th Pay Commission by the state government, as it will also benefit Anganwadi workers.
Not just about them
Improving their lot and work condition is, however, not the only objective of the workers. They are also demanding that the government improve the quality of eggs supplied to the Anganwadis. The eggs supplied to them are of poor quality and small sized, they allege, which has a serious implications on children’s nutrition and health.
The newly elected Congress-led government is not keen on listening to Anganwadi workers, let alone resolving their problems, alleged Varalakshmi.
In view of the imminent protests by Anganwadi workers on July 10, the state Women and Child Development Department has in a circular asked CDPOs to not receive mobile phones from them. There shall not be any hindrance in the survey on health and nutrition and uploading the details in the Poshan Tracker App on mobile phone sets, the department said.
Reminding the Congress of its poll promises, Rajamma Belakavadi, an Anganwadi worker, said that party leaders like Priyanka Gandhi had promised to raise the salary of Anganwadi helpers to Rs 10,000. This was the sixth guarantee that the ruling party had given to Anganwadi workers during the poll campaign, she claimed.
“Believing this, Anganwadi workers and helpers supported the Congress. But the Congress government is yet to fulfill the promise. It is rather talking only about five guarantees. It is not talking the sixth guarantee. We are requesting the state government to pay attention to the promise given to us,” said Belakavadi.
Though the Congress government is working overtime to implement the five guarantees, it is unmindful of the burden their implementation will put on Anganwadi workers, goes the allegation.