Andhra Pradesh Anganwadi workers detained amid ‘Chalo Vijayawada’ protest as government plans crackdown

The government to issue the termination orders for those who didn't report on or before 9:30 on 22 January and to issue a new  recruitment notification on 25 January for the replacement. 

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Jan 22, 2024 | 10:11 PMUpdatedJan 22, 2024 | 10:11 PM

Anganwadi protesters. (South First)

The Andhra Pradesh police around 3 am, on Monday, 22 January, detained Anganwadi workers and helpers at Dharna Chowk in Vijayawada, along with those arriving from other districts, to thwart the “Chalo Vijayawada” programme.

The Anganwadi workers had been on strike since 12 December 2023, and commenced a fast-unto-death on 17 January.

On Monday, they presented 1 crore signatures gathered from the public in support of their demands, which are primarily focused on wage increases and the release of gratuity funds for Anganwadis.

The government is expected to issue termination orders for Anganwadi workers who didn’t report to work on or before 9:30 am on Monday, and also issue a new recruitment notification on Thursday for their replacement.

Anganwadi workers currently receive only ₹11,500 as a salary for teachers and ₹7,000 for helpers, despite undertaking 27 different functions. These functions include teaching, cooking, serving, delivering food, and preparing meals and snacks for preschool children.

The workers say that they cover expenses for vegetables and gas out of their own pockets.

Read South First‘s earlier report on how the Anganwadi protesters in Vijayawada feel their agitation is similar to those against the CAA or the NRC, contributing to the shaping of political dynamics.

Also Read: AP Anganwadi workers dismiss govt announcement of ₹80 crore

Failed talks and ESMA

Over the past 41 days of protests, the Andhra Pradesh government engaged in multiple negotiations with the Anganwadi workers; however, these talks proved unsuccessful.

On 6 January, the Andhra Pradesh government invoked the Essential Services and Maintenance Act (ESMA) of 1971 through GO No 2.

This order prohibited strikes by the Anganwadi workers and helpers at all centres for six months, mandating their immediate return to duty.

The Anganwadi workers responded by burning copies of the order and declared their refusal to resume duties until their primary demands were addressed.

The Dharna chowk in Vijayawada on 21 January. (South First)

The Dharna chowk in Vijayawada on 21 January. (South First)

On 9 January, following the failed negotiations, YSRCP general secretary and government advisor Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy, responding to the demands of Anganwadi workers, told reporters that Jagan Mohan, as promised during his padayatra, pledged to increase salaries higher than those in neighbouring Telangana, and he should fulfil that commitment.

He stated, “After YS Jagan Mohan Reddy became the chief minister, we increased the salaries of Anganwadi staff (from ₹10,500 to ₹11,500), surpassing those of their counterparts in Telangana. Now, with the Telangana government enhancing their salaries (to ₹13,500), we plan to increase our staff’s salaries soon.”

Reddy appealed to Anganwadi workers to return to their duties. He warned that if the Anganwadi staff persisted in their strike, the government would issue notices and decide on further actions.

In a follow-up, district collectors and project supervisors allegedly warned Anganwadi workers of suspension from their services if they did not resume duty by 9.30 am on Monday.

Despite these warnings, the workers continued to protest and planned a “Chalo Vijayawada” initiative to submit 1 crore signatures collected from the public emphasising their 11 demands.

Also Read: After Anganwadi workers, 3 more unions protest in Vijayawada

Cops halt ‘Chalo Vijayawada’

The NTR District Commissioner of Police (CP) Kanthi Rana Tata told reporters on Sunday that no permission had been granted for the “Chalo Vijayawada” protest planned by agitating Anganwadi workers, helpers, and various organisations near the chief minister’s camp office in Tadepalli on Monday.

In response, district collectors across the state issued oral orders through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and press releases instructing Anganwadi workers to resume duty, warning of strict measures if they failed to comply.

The Dharna chowk in Vijayawada on 22 January. (South First)

The Dharna chowk in Vijayawada on 22 January. (South First)

The government also directed the district collectors to issue the termination to the Anganwadi workers. It stated, “Approval of District Selection Committee for termination of all those AWW/AWH who have continued to be on strike at 9.31 AM of 22.01.2024. [sic]”

It also mentioned the issuing of the recruitment notification for new staff. It stated, “On 25 January, the recruitment notification – to be made available in press, district website, notice board of collectorate/PD office/CDPO office. The Portal available for filing of online applications by eligible candidates at village/ward secretariat. No physical application to be taken at CDPO offices. [sic]”

Despite these directives, Anganwadi workers and helpers continued to assemble in Vijayawada for the programme.

Around 3 am on Monday, the police detained Anganwadi workers protesting through a fast-unto-death since 17 January and transported them to different locations to prevent the march towards the chief minister’s camp office.

The protest setup at Dharna Chowk was dismantled, replaced by police vans and increased security.

Political support

Naga Lakshmi, an Anganwadi worker who was detained in the hospital along with two others fasting unto death, told South First: “Everything happened within seconds. The police came and forcibly took the workers to different locations.”

She added: “Two workers, whose health was deteriorating due to lack of food for the past five days, were brought to the hospital and are currently in ICU. Additionally, Anganwadi workers planning to enter Vijayawada were halted at railway stations and bus complexes.”

She also said, “Project supervisors threatened us, stating that if we didn’t resume duty by 9.30 am today, they would suspend us, following instructions from top officials. Our colleagues informed us that as many as 80,000 Anganwadis may be removed, and new recruits will be appointed by this month through a notification.”

In solidarity, Communist parties launched a protest at the CPI(M) party office in Vijayawada, demanding the immediate release of the detained Anganwadi workers.

CPI(M) state secretary Srinivas Rao warned of severe repercussions if the government did not release the workers.

Later on Monday, the Communist parties called for a statewide protest on Wednesday against the state government’s detention of the Anganwadi workers.

Meanwhile, the principal Opposition parties — the TDP and the JSP — condemned the detention and assured that the new government would address the problems of the Anganwadi workers.