By: Satyakam Bharti
A poor woman’s suicide seldom makes news, unless, of course, it is carried out in a police officer’s office. An anganwadi worker in Baijnath could not think of such a desperate measure because she had nobody in particular to blame, but just the system, and therefore there was no one to cry foul when she knotted a rope to hang herself with. She had been wronged. Someone had taken away her job – a job paying just a couple of hundred rupees, but anyway her soul source of livelihood.
In a country where a farmer in debt commits suicide almost everyday without making anybody think about their plight, an anganwadi worker’s death is hardly any reason to raise an alarm. The poor woman was a victim of mechanization of the political system with every government playing the vendetta game very effectively. The victim here may have nothing to do with irregularities in appointment of anganwadi workers made by the previous government, as is being now claimed by the present government. She was as much in need of a job as would be the person who would take her place.
The government has now ordered an inquiry into the irregularities committed in the selection of anganwadi workers and helpers during the Congress regime. The state social justice and empowerment minister even said that only eligible persons would now be appointed. True, but what is the eligibility criteria even the minister may not be aware.
The Central government had floated a scheme known as Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) Programme in the year 1975. It is funded by the Central government, but its application, however, is at the hands of the respective states. Anganwadi workers are appointed from amongst the local inhabitants and selection is made by a committee.
A Supreme Court judgment dated 07/12/2006 on a case involving the State of Karnataka & others vs. Ameerbi & others states that anganwadi workers are ‘not holders of civil posts’, meaning they are not government employees strictly. Putting up their case, the state had submitted that for filling up of the said posts, no advertisement is required to be made, nor the provisions of the recruitment rules are required to be complied with. Which means that they are generally appointed amongst the volunteers as and when required without taking into consideration any kind of minimum qualification. Supporting this view, the judgment also mentions that anganwadi workers and helpers are not to be appointed on a pay scale. They are to be paid honorarium. For a non-matriculate, as on 1.4.02, the amount fixed was Rs 938 and for a matriculate Rs 1,000. The point is that the eligibility criterion is as ambiguous as ‘non-matriculate and matriculate, which may even mean that even an illiterate person can be an anganwadi worker.
So the minister should be clear about what qualification she is talking about. She, of course, stated that priority would be given to candidates from the weaker sections so that they could get employment in their native villages. This makes one thing sure that she seriously believes the previous government appointed some real rich people as anganwadi workers.
Whatever be, the point is that poor villagers really look forward to working as anganwadi workers or helpers and are thus being victimized for no fault of theirs, except their political leanings maybe. The government should understand that terminated university teachers may have enough resources to wait for their reinstatement, the terminated PTA teachers may also have the required qualification to find another job, but with their hand to mouth situation anganwadi workers have hardly any scope for political maneuvering, as was evident from the recent suicide.
A simple solution can be that anganwadi workers may be appointed for a fixed term and with a condition that they may be appointed again with a break of at least one term. This way, the hapless villagers may not have to live under the wrong impression of having a permanent government job, and the successive governments too would have enough space to oblige their cadre.