Almost 55,000 Andhra Pradesh preschools non-functional for a week as anganwadi protests intensify

Angered over no response from the YSRCP government, 1 lakh anganwadi workers are protesting against inadequate salaries and administrative streamlining.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Dec 19, 2023 | 4:12 PMUpdatedDec 19, 2023 | 4:23 PM

Anganwadi workers and helpers protesting. (Supplied)

On 12 December, Andhra Pradesh woke up with almost all 55,000 anganwadi centres locked up. The reason? At least 1 lakh anganwadi workers and helpers are staging a protest against the silence of the YSRCP government in the state.

Their demands have been pending for the past decade, and were promised to be addressed by the YSRCP government led by Chief Minister and party chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy after assuming power.

That coming to power was four years ago, and what the anganwadi workers have heard — despite several representations — is absolute silence.

Thousands of minority women protested against the CAA and NRC in Delhi, and farmers in large numbers protested against the farm laws. One common thread in these protests was the significant role played by the agitators in shaping the political dynamics.

Something similar appears to be happening in Andhra Pradesh now.

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The Dharna Chowk

In Vijayawada, the political hotspot of Andhra Pradesh, just a few kilometres away from Alankar Dharna Chowk, one would notice at least 100 women — all anganwadi workers — chanting for attention and demanding justice.

Anganwadis protesting at the Dharna Chowk, Vijayawada. (Bhaskar Basava/South first)

Anganwadis protesting at the Dharna Chowk, Vijayawada. (Bhaskar Basava/South first)

Towards the back rows, one woman was overheard checking with their colleagues, “Was your centre unlocked by the secretariat employees?”

Even as they locked the doors of anganwadis and protested at the Dharna Chowk, the state government reportedly broke the doors of some anganwadi centres after the workers didn’t agree to open them.

“In a bid to withdraw the protests, the government warned us that it would start operating the anganwadi centres with the self-help groups or volunteers. But all anganwadi workers sit in dharna with undeterred,” said Navanaga Lakshmi, an anganwadi worker from the Ramavarpadu village in the Vijayawada district.

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The plight of anganwadi workers

In 1975, the Indian government initiated the establishment of anganwadis as a part of the Integrated Child Development Services programme, aiming to address child hunger and malnutrition in rural areas.

These centres actively engage in routine surveys of all families, arrange preschool activities, deliver health and nutrition education, particularly focusing on pregnant and lactating women, and encourage family planning.

Anganwadi centers in Andhra Pradesh are locked in protest against the state government.

Anganwadi centres in Andhra Pradesh are locked in protest against the state government.

Additionally, they educate parents about child growth and development, family planning, and child marriages within the community.

Everything that falls under the umbrella of rural healthcare and the welfare of children below six years of age is often entrusted to them.

However, anganwadi workers say they receive only ₹11,500 as salary for the teacher and ₹7,000 for the helper despite performing 27 different functions.

These include not just the above-mentioned roles but also teaching, as well as cooking, serving, and delivering food.

For preschool children, anganwadi workers are responsible for preparing meals and snacks, with expenses for vegetables and gas coming out of their own pockets.

The compensation for each child is minimal, with the government providing ₹0.50 for gas and ₹1.5 for vegetables per child. Moreover, the centre’s rent is credited at intervals of three or six months, and so the workers have to foot interim bills of the anganwadis from their own pockets.

Secretariat employees breaking the locked key in the night hours. (Supplied)

Secretariat employees breaking the lock of Ramavarpadu Anganwadi in the night hours

“The rent for anganwadi centres has been pending for six months,” noted anganwadi worker K Sudharani.

She added, “Records, the electricity bill, books, and even photocopies. None of these is covered by the compensation.”

Anganwadi workers are also not eligible for any welfare scheme, as they are categorised as government employees. But do not receive any government employee benefits either.

“There is no insurance, provident fund, or security. All that is left for the home is around ₹2,000,” said SK Ghousya, a 50-year-old anganwadi worker.

Ghousya said she did not remember the last time she availed a leave, even though there are 20 leaves per annum.

Leaves were only granted if someone from the family fell seriously ill, she noted.

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Demand to implement failed promises

When the anganwadi workers protested against the then TDP government, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, who was the Opposition leader at the time, vowed to increase their salary to ₹1,000 more than what the government in neighbouring Telangana was paying.

However, after coming to power in 2019, he increased the salary by only ₹1,000, falling short of what was promised.

Since then, anganwadi workers have been urging the government to regularise their employment status and fulfil the demand of raising their salaries to ₹26,000, providing proper compensation for maintenance expenses.

“Despite the Supreme Court orders in 2022 allowing a gratuity fund for anganwadi workers, it is not being implemented in the state,” said SK Ghousya.

Additionally, there is a demand to integrate the various online apps used by the state and central governments for anganwadi workers into one.

Anganwadi worker Sudharani shows her mobile and questions the need of three apps by the government.

Anganwadi worker Sudharani shows her mobile and questions the need for 3 apps.

Sudharani became emotional when expressing her frustration with having to fill and submit details in three different state government apps — Poshana Tracker, YSR Sampoorna Poshana, and YSR-SP-AWC — even after returning home late at night.

“Why can’t they just put it in one app? We have to provide the same details of the child repeatedly,” she noted.

“Besides all the preschool work, we also have to deliver rations to lactating women at home, as the app requires biometric authentication. Since they can’t come, we have to go to them,” she explained.

“Earlier, the mothers-in-law or other relatives of lactating women used to come and take the ration, but now even this work has to be done by us,” she said.

Instead of addressing these demands or engaging in discourse, the state government is now breaking the locks of anganwadi centres, stating that if workers fail to join duty, the centres would be handled by volunteers or secretariat employees.

However, NCH Supraja, the NTR District anganwadi union secretary, emphasised that preschooling was not a trivial task.

Bringing a three-year-old child to school was challenging, but anganwadi workers persuaded them and brought them to school, she said.

“All the beneficiaries and parents trust us and know our work. They have extended their support; it is just the government that has stood stubborn,” she lamented.

She even threw a challenge to Telugu film director Ram Gopal Varma, who has been batting for the YSRCP, to take on an anganwadi job for a day before questioning the necessity of a salary hike for workers with 7th and 10th-grade education.