Union Minister Maneka Gandhi Thursday pitched the idea of a cashless economy to Anganwadi workers and urged them to encourage other people to switch to digital transactions, but many of them remained unconvinced and asked how would they buy a smartphone or an internet package.
“If the army of 24 lakh Anganwadi workers communicate to the parents who come to them that they must use cellphones to pay and accept salaries, to buy and sell vegetables, then we can create a new future and a new nation,” Gandhi said.
The Women and Child Development Minister was speaking at an award ceremony here, where a short presentation was made to familiarise Anganwadi workers with Unified Payment Interface or UPI and e-wallets.
Maladevi, from Nasirpur in UP, said, “This is a necessity but if there is no information then how will we do it? We also need money to be able to buy a smartphone and access internet. I earn Rs 4,000 a month and I only have a basic phone.”
The Centre pays Rs 3,000 to Anganwadi workers and states pay a small sum as an honorarium to them.
Maladevi feels demonetisation has inconvenienced the poor the most. “This is not a problem for those who have money. Only poor people are facing trouble. Others will find their way out but it is the poor who are being deprived.”
She said she was able to travel from her village to Delhi for the event on the money borrowed from her neighbours.
Shantidevi, another Anganwadi worker for nearly 30 years from Jharkhand’s Latehar, said, “People have phones but not smartphones. However, if this is made compulsory then we will have to do it.”
She said district authorities have been carrying out a campaign about cashless transactions and training people to open bank accounts and use an ATM. She too has been tasked to train 10 other people in her village.
However, some were optimistic about the demonetisation exercise. A worker from Sri Ganganagar said she felt this will pave the way for a better future. “Where I work not many people know how to use internet. But if today we are facing problems, we are hopeful we will have a better tomorrow.”
Keelhamu Lepcha, an Anganwadi worker in North Sikkim district, wondered whether the move towards cashless payments will be of help in remote areas where cellphone reception is poor.
“This is not as easy as madam makes it seem. Buying a smartphone will be a problem. Where I live, internet connectivity is not such a problem but in remote areas it will be a problem where there is poor mobile connectivity.”
She also told PTI that many people in her district have to travel 20-30 kms to access an ATM.
Anganwadi workers are tasked with the responsibility of furthering the government’s Integrated Child Development Services to fight child hunger and malnutrition. As part of this, they provide nutrition supplements as well as carry out pre-school activities.
They also assist ASHAs or Accredited Social Health Activists in providing basic medicines, contraceptives, vaccination and counseling expectant mothers.
Ironically, before appealing to Anganwadi workers to campaign for digital payments, Gandhi said she has told states not to deploy them for anything else apart from their designated duties.
“When we talk about malnutrition then you are blamed for it. According to UNICEF nearly half of this country’s children are malnourished. As a result, it is said that those who have been tasked with this responsibility (to fight malnourishment) are not carrying it out sincerely.
“We have appealed to all states not to misuse anganwadi workers. If there is a VIP meeting you are asked to help, if there is an election then you are asked to do paper work. We don’t want this. Your job is to protect children and pregnant mothers and nothing else.”