On Friday, exactly at 10 am, a group of six to seven children lined up outside their anganwadi centre in Lal Kuan — which remained shut for the fifth day in a row. But they decided to wait. As eagerness soon turned into impatience within a couple of minutes, they looked around hoping for someone to arrive. Their wish was soon fulfilled — only, instead of a worker, helper or a supervisor, a woman who lives in a nearby building walked up to them. She informed them that the centre will not open anytime soon as the workers and helpers were not coming.
Disappointed, the children returned home. At the anganwadi centres — part of the Integrated Child Development Scheme under the department of Women and Child Development — children below the age of six and nursing mothers are provided supplementary nutrition. However, the 1,098 functional anganwadi centres in Delhi are not operating properly at present. This is because workers and helpers have been protesting outside Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence since June 28, demanding payment of salaries and proper food for the children.
The employees claimed they have not been paid for five months. “Though the employees of the anganwadi centres went on strike last month, food was being provided at most places till last week. However, since Monday, food distribution has been stopped at many places because there is no one to distribute the food. Till last week, supervisors were distributing food but they have a lot of anganwadi centres under them and are unable to serve at each one of them on a daily basis,” said an official of a non-profit organisation — one of the 20 that serve food at anganwadi centres.
Deepak Bisht, an anganwadi worker, who said he has been in the field for the last 37 years, said the government is doing them an “injustice” by not giving them their “meagre salaries”. While an anganwadi worker is paid Rs 5,000 per month, a helper is paid Rs 2,500. “I started at a time when we used to get Rs 250 per month. But we have never had to face such problems. In the last couple of years, however, we have had to beg for our salaries. We are just asking money for the work we have done,” said Bisht, who works at an anganwadi centre in Rohini. Outside Kejriwal’s house, meanwhile, the fear of a layoff is palpable.
With the government recently issuing an advertisement for jobs at anganwadi centres, these “unpaid” workers fear the government might remove them from their jobs. It has been 15 days since the workers and helpers started their protest but no minister or official has come to speak to them. Deputy CM Sisodia, who is also in charge of the department of Women and Child Development, did not respond to queries.