Asmat (name changed), an Anganwadi worker from central Kashmir’s Budgam district is working in the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme in Jammu and Kashmir for a decade now.
Married for four years, Asmat had a tiff with her husband recently forcing her to turn to her younger brother for two thousand odd rupees for her treatment. The roughly half a century-old ICDS scheme, aimed at fulfilling the nutritional needs of children, adolescent girls and pregnant and lactating mothers could not come handy for a woman in need of a few hundred bucks to see a doctor.
Close to 60,000 Anganwadi workers and helpers like Asmat working in the Anganwadi centers of ICDS J&K on a meager monthly honorarium of Rs 5,100 and Rs 2,550 respectively, have been left high and dry with their wages pending for the last nearly six months amid the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic with the authorities in the union territory citing the delay in the central share of the funds for the withheld salaries.
The workers are being paid a monthly remuneration of Rs 5,100 of which Rs 4,500 is borne by the Centre and the rest by the J&K government. Anganwadi helpers are paid half the honorarium.
With this meager honorarium pending for the last six months, the Anganwadi workers and helpers have been left in a quandary despite being at the forefront during the prevailing pandemic, which has already hit the economy badly due to two back to back lockdowns, Latifa Ganai, Convener of the All J&K Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union, which is affiliated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), told Greater Kashmir.
As per Latifa, majority of the workers and helpers were women from middle and lower middle class families with the pending honorarium only adding to their financial hardships during the prevailing pandemic.
“Which women from a well off family would prefer to do such a low paying job? Majority of us are fed up, but do it only for job security,” she said.
Latifa said that despite being without honorarium, they had been active at the grassroots level doing their duties including during the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
She however complained that unlike doctors and paramedical staff, they have been deprived of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits.
The union leader further complained that the uniforms provided to them by the department were of low quality and suggested that they be provided cash in lieu of the cost of the cloth.
She also alleged that they were not provided the recharge for the smartphones provided to them for the submission of online records.
When contacted over the matter, Mission Director ICDS J&K, Rubina Kousar cited the delay in the release of central funds for the pending wages of the Anganwadi workers and helpers.
“They have been engaged under a centrally funded scheme and funds are not released in one go,” Kousar said.
She said that the central funds were not directly released to the mission directorate, but routed through the J&K Finance Department and then withdrawn by the administrative department of the Social Welfare, which then keeps the funds available at the disposal of the directorate.
“It takes 2-3 months to get the process done,” she said.
Kousar said that the last installment of the central funds was released to them in December last year while they are expecting funds for the first quarter of this year as they have already submitted the utilization of the released funds.
“We have placed the requisition with the Administrative Department and are expecting the funds shortly,” she added.
Over the pending wages of workers and helpers other than 2021, the Mission Director ICDS J&K said, “That year, the government of India had released funds less than what the J&K government had requisitioned.
“It is a committed liability with the government and they will release it at any point of time. We have been reflecting on it every now and then,” she added.
Over complaints about poor quality of uniforms, Kousar said the uniforms were procured by the J&K Handloom Corporation even as she asked the workers and helpers to approach her office.
Kousar refuted allegations that the workers had to bear the operational charges of the smartphones provided to them. “They are not tech savvy, that is why they make such excuses every now and then. Otherwise, they have been provided proper training,” she said.
As for the complaints by the workers that many of them had been deployed on COVID-19 vaccination duties without safety gear, Kousar said, “I don’t know who has deployed them on duties. At least the Mission Directorate has not. They should approach the concerned CMOs on this”.