The Plight of Anganwadi ‘Volunteers’: Balancing both Sides

INTRODUCTION

The Anganwadi Program is part of the Integrated Child Development Service (‘ICDS’) Scheme launched by the Central Government in 1975. The Program focuses on the holistic development of children in the age group of 0-6 years. The objective of the Scheme is to provide guidance, medical assistance and nutrition to pregnant and lactating mothers, and focus on immunization and proper social, psychological and physical development of their children through informal pre-school education. In many ways, Anganwadi workers are engaged in one of the most important tasks of ensuring the development and welfare of underprivileged mothers and children.1

Unfortunately, in the last two decades, mass protests across the country have surfaced in connection with the remunerations paid to these Anganwadi workers. These workers are not paid the prescribed statutory minimum wages. They initially claimed that by being under the employment of the Central Government, they are entitled to the minimum wage fixed by the Government. However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in 20072 held that the law does not allow them to be entitled to minimum wages. Since then, the fight has been to initiate a change in the law to formally recognise them as legitimate workers.

THE CASE OF AMEERBI AND THE GOVERNMENTS CONCERNS

The Ameerbi Case3 was monumental in determining the legal status of the Anganwadi workers. Under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Government is liable to pay the minimum wage in two situations: (i) where the person in question is either employed under a civil post, or (ii) is employed in a work listed under the scheduled employment4. Since there is no express mention of the Anganwadi worker or any Scheme workers under the schedule, the only issue placed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court was to assess whether Anganwadi workers qualify as personnel engaged in civil posts.

The Court placed reliance on several cases5 where the employee under question was held to be the holder of a civil post. The factors which were considered by the Courts were that: (i) these employees were appointed and employed in posts;

1 The ICDS Scheme at: https://icds-wcd.nic.in/icds.aspx

2 State of Karnataka and Others v. Ameerbi and Others, (2007) 11 SCC 681.

3 Id.

4 S. 2(g), Minimum Wages Act 1985

5 State of Assam v. Kanak Chandra Dutta, AIR 1967 SC 884

R.N.A Britto v. Chief Executive Officers, (1995) 4 SCC 8

State of UP v. Chandra Prakash Pandey, (2001) 4 SCC 78

(ii) these posts were created by statutory provisions prescribing appointment guidelines, which delegated State duty(ies) to the employees; and (iii) salaries or wages were paid, as fixed by the central or local authority.

Court observed that, on the contrary, the work of the Anganwadi workers was in furtherance of a Social Welfare Scheme of the Government and not in discharge of a statutory requirement. These workers are volunteers approved by a committee. There are no existing Regulations on appointment (as is required for civil posts). The only existing guideline prescribes that they must be graduates; in cases of helpers, they must have passed grade four (or five depending on the State); and in cases of workers, they must have passed grade ten6. The Scheme shows that these are not even salaried workers and specifically mentions that they are paid in ‘honorarium’7, in accordance with their qualifications8. As such, it is apparent that Anganwadi workers work in furtherance of state duty rather than state function.

On a separate but interesting note, the Counsel appearing on behalf of the Union in this case took a stand that allowing minimum wages to Anganwadi workers has far-reaching financial implications that the Union cannot take up. The Minister of Women and Child Development speaking on the topic of Anganwadi Workers on 05 May 2016, also made a statement that the Government is simply unable to increase the honorarium provided, due to the vast number of workers9. The stand taken by the Government simply suggests that it does not regard the work done by these “volunteers” as vital enough for the Government to undertake the financial burden for it.

A STATISTICAL LOOK AT THE ISSUE

The Scheme is set up in a fashion where the program is primarily funded by the Centre and the control of implementation is given to the State Government, which renders the entire accounting budgeting system inefficient. Initially, the Central Government was liable to contribute only ninety (90) percent of the costs and the State Government was only liable for the remaining ten (10) percent10 The State Government has the option of providing additional remuneration to the workers out of its budget. However, since 2015-16, the Union has changed the ratio. Now the Central Government is only liable to

6 Supra @nt. 1

7 It translates to the payment given to the workers to not be in exchange of the work they do, as for an employed person. Instead, the payment is structured as a token of appreciation for helping the government.

8 Supra @nt. 1

9 Menaka gandhi, MoWCD <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1S5inImHwE>

10 MINISTRY OF WOMEN AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT, ANNUAL REPORT 2017-18, CHAPTER 3: CHILD DEVELOPMENT, PARA 3.7: FUNDING PATTERN

<HTTPS://WCD.NIC.IN/SITES/DEFAULT/FILES/AR%202017-18%20CHAPTER%203.PDF>

contribute sixty (60) percent of the General Budget and the burden on the State Governments to contribute for a Scheme which is primarily of the Central Government, is kept at forty (40) percent.11

There are approximately Twenty-Seven lakhs (27,00,000)12 Anganwadi workers sanctioned by the Government as of 201913. The payment to the Anganwadi Workers which started at Rupees One Hundred (INR 100) per month at the launch of the scheme in 1975, has seen a gradual increase with time. However, the increase has certainly not been proportional to the increasing cost of living. Currently, as notified by the Union, the workers at the main Anganwadi centres are paid Rupees Four Thousand Five Hundred (INR 4,500); workers at mini centres are paid Rupees Three Thousand Five Hundred (INR 3,500); and Anganwadi helpers are paid a meagre sum of Rupees Two Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty (INR 2,250) per month14. The foregoing figures show that the amounts paid to the Anganwadi workers are grossly inadequate to support a reasonable standard of living.

The State Governments have the option of providing additional remuneration, which most of the States exercise, but at a very minimal level, as demonstrated below15:

11 ID.

12 14 lakh workers and 13 lakh helpers.

13 Ministry of Women and Child Development, Press Release Titled “Anganwadi Sevikas” on 12.07.2019, available at : HTTPS://PIB.GOV.IN/PRESSRELEASEPAGE.ASPX?PRID=1578557.

14 Id.

15 Id.

The table presented above shows that the States that have the biggest share of the Anganwadi workers such as Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Odisha, Maharashtra etcetera provide minimal additional remunerative support to the Anganwadi workers. On the other hand, States that have a moderate to low number of sanctioned workers, have allocated much higher remunerative amounts. However, at the same time, there are states like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh which pay a reasonable additional honorarium even with high numbers of sanctioned workers.

CURRENT LEGAL POSITION AND ANALYSIS

The latest legal development in 2019 makes for an interesting marker of the Government’s intention with respect to the issue of payment to Anganwadi workers. The new Code on Wages alleviates the issue by mandating all employers to not pay less than the minimum wages to their employees16. Such a provision does away with the requirements laid down in the Ameerbi case and clarifies that an employer-employee relationship is adequate for payment of minimum wages. However, the question – whether Anganwadi workers are employees under the new Code, still remains to be answered. Unfortunately, the definition of ‘Employee’17 as well as ‘Worker’18 under the Code does not include welfare scheme workers.

The issue with the inadequacy of remunerations derived by the Anganwadi workers runs even deeper. The fact that these workers are not sought after or required, and instead voluntarily apply for this position, which does not have a proper screening or selection criteria, makes them volunteers / voluntary workers. It is this ‘voluntary’ worker status that still excludes them from payment of minimum wages, resulting in the remuneration being bestowed upon them by the Government, instead of being salaried. Since they are technically not employees, they do not fall under the ambit of the new Code.

A Standing Committee on Labour was appointed by the Ministry to review the Code19 which recognised this lacuna in its report and suggested that such scheme workers need to be included under the definition of ‘Employee’20. The report also mentions that the Ministry of Labour and Employment has specifically denied including Anganwadi workers, taking shelter behind the argument that the new provisions are with respect to the “existing provision for

16 Section 5 of the Code on Wages, 2019

17 Section 2(k) of the Code on Wages, 2019

18 Section 2(z) of the Code on Wages, 2019

19 Standing Committee on Labour (2019-20), 8th report at : http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Labour/17_Labour_8.pdf 20 Para 4.3 of the report

the formation of a Trade Union”21. Such explanations serve more as excuses than reasons.

The foregoing stand of the Central Government suggests that it does not wish to include the Anganwadi workers under the ambit of minimum wages, as a matter of unwritten policy.

However, in an attempt to address the issue, the Government provides certain compensatory measures to Anganwadi workers as part of the Scheme, such as- insurance coverage to workers till the age of 59; hundred and eight (180) days of maternity leave; and two (2) sets of uniforms every year. Having said that, the current compensatory framework is inadequate to incentivize the Anganwadi workers, given the nature of the welfare works done by them. Although, a true comparison of the inadequacy of the honorarium in its exact nature is not present, the minimum wage figures in the country give some idea. The minimum wage for the lowest strata, i.e., unskilled grade ‘C’ employees working in agriculture is fixed at Rupees Three Hundred and Eighty Two (INR 382) per day22, which amounts to a monthly income of Indian Rupees Nine Thousand One Hundred and Sixty Eight (INR 9,168) when calculated for just twenty four (24) days of a month. On the contrary, the pay of an Anganwadi worker of the highest strata is Indian Rupees Four Thousand and Five Hundred (INR 4,500). The minimum wage when compared with the pay of an Anganwadi worker, showcases the stark difference between what the Government considers a very minimal monetary requirement to survive in the country and what it pays as honorarium to these workers.

CONCLUSION

A detailed analysis of the Scheme demonstrates that Anganwadi work was never meant as a full-time job and instead was intended as part time work opportunity for the workers to generate additional income. Further, the Scheme was also intended for unemployed rural women with basic/minimal education to have means of additional earning for their household. The Scheme allows these women to work for a few hours in the Anganwadi centres and then return to their households. Given that the intention was always in the nature of volunteering, the expectation of monetary remuneration, which is at par with salaried employees or minimum wages workers, may not be entirely justified. However, there are several instances where the Anganwadi workers are being overworked and in such a scenario the remuneration that are paid becomes inadequate23.

21 Para 4.12 of the report

22 Order dated 31.03.2022; Office of the Chief Labour Commissioner, Ministry of Labour and Employment <https://clc.gov.in/clc/node/690>

23 Desai, G., Pandit, N., Sharma, D., “Changing Role of Anganwadi Workers, A study conducted in Vadodara District”. Healthline Vol. 3, Issue 1 (2012)

Even if the stand of the Union that Anganwadi workers cannot be included in the minimum wages regime is considered, there is a requirement for enactment of a special law to regulate appointments and working conditions of, and payment of remunerations and additional benefits to, the Anganwadi workers. Instead of monthly payments/salaries, the special law can create a bracket for hourly payment. This will also ensure that Anganwadi workers are paid for additional hours of work. Further, the Government can also make provisions for other allowances such as medical services, travel, rations etcetera, to promote more participation towards Anganwadi work.

In a situation of financial constraint, this proposes to be a viable compromise at present.

Contributed by:
Abhipriy Burman
Associate, Saakshya Law

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top