Many anganwadi workers in Karnataka face challenges such as no pension and delayed honorarium. Officials attribute these issues to scams involving CDPOs embezzling funds and challenges in renewing the NPS portal.
Nagarathnamma, retired for eight years, lives alone. Bereaved of husband and brother, abandoned by children, she cautiously manages savings and pension to avoid financial strain. Suffering from severe stomach pain for five days, Nagarathnamma sought medical help last week. She spent Rs. 300 on the doctor’s visit and Rs. 250 on medication. Now, she has limited funds for monthly essentials, and her rent is three months overdue.
Nagarathnamma isn’t the only one facing this struggle. Many retired anganwadi workers, like her, face issues such as delayed honorarium, minimal or no pension, and no gratuity and other benefits. Even after applying for the pension scheme, they still don’t receive their pension.
Anganwadi workers say that their basic rights continue to be overlooked. Retired workers experience delays in pension under the New Pension Scheme (NPS)-Lite, while others miss out on timely monthly honorarium, medical aid, and various benefits like the Gruha Lakshmi scheme.
The workers say that they also lack incentives for enrolling beneficiaries in certain programs, and bear the additional workload of working in schools, attending health checkups, and conducting surveys.
She retired in June 2016 after working 34 years as an anganwadi worker. Nagarathnamma said, “Before the NPS Lite scheme, we received a lump sum of Rs. 50,000 (workers) and the helpers received Rs. 30,000 as pension. With the NPS, contributions from workers and the government increased the pension amount, but many retirees, including myself, haven’t received the full sum. Despite my service, I only got Rs. 63,000.” The workers receive pensions ranging from Rs. 1-2 lakhs based on their years of service, but they say that the CDPOs never provide them with the rightful amount.
Rekha S. Murthy, an official from the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD), who has come from Devanahalli to work on the NPS Lite, said, “As a contributory pension scheme, anganwadi workers pay Rs. 150, and helpers pay Rs. 84 every month to the CDPO office. It is later debited to the Indian Overseas Bank. In 2021, a fraud case in Kollegalla taluk in Chamarajanagara district involved a CDPO stealing Rs. 1.19 crores. Using the login details, he manipulated worker records, claimed pensions using a relative’s bank details. This was found out in 2021, and no action was taken until June 2023, when accounts in 31 districts were temporarily deactivated and reactivated with new passwords in January, 2024. Pensions are slowly being disbursed due to a more secure system and a changed domain. No pension approvals were given last year due to these security upgrades.”
Sundramma, an aganwadi worker from Kollegalla taluk said that the CDPO manipulated information, including birthdates and bank account details, for many workers, falsely marking them as deceased and pocketing their pensions. She said, “When I and other workers went to the deputy director to file a complaint about many workers falling victim to this fraud, she said that since she came to power in 2021, she cannot do anything about an incident that happened in 2017, and advised us to file a court case.”
Some of the workers lack Above Poverty Line (APL) or Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards, missing out on benefits like the Gruha Lakshmi scheme, for which, these documents are mandatory. Many retired women, abandoned by husbands and unsupported by children, face uncertainty. “With 34 years in government service, we lack medical aid or reimbursement. When we approach officials, they redirect us to the government, saying that these issues are not under their control,” Nagarathnamma said.
Many anganwadi workers complained that they are burdened with extra responsibilities without getting any incentive. Asha Jyoti said that due to insufficient staff, they bear the responsibility of updating the POSHAN tracker app. Additionally, they have to personally spend Rs. 600 each month for data recharge to access the app.
The POSHAN Tracker app offers a comprehensive overview of Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) activities, service deliveries by Anganwadi Workers (AWWs), and thorough beneficiary management for pregnant women, lactating mothers, children aged 0-6, and adolescent girls. Despite being an essential app for data entry, the government doesn’t reimburse the workers for internet usage, forcing them to cover data recharge expenses from their own pockets.
Asha added, “We’re asking the government for minimum wages. Sometimes, we haven’t been paid for eight to 10 months, and even when we are, it’s not the full amount.”
G.R. Shivashankar, the general secretary of the Trade Union Co-ordination Centre, said that bureaucrats are indifferent to their working conditions. He emphasized unresolved issues like workplace deaths, stressing the need for equal pay for equal work as repeatedly directed by the Supreme Court. “We are demanding that the APL and BPL card requirement be removed for Gruha Lakshmi scheme benefits, especially for retired anganwadi workers or women, they’re the one who are really in need of those benefits. Additionally, in many districts, anganwadi workers are not receiving their pensions,” he said.
The officials say that anganwadi workers are honorarium-based workers, and thus, exempt from the 2021 Wage Act. Gagana, First Division Officer, DWCD, said, “The state government has approved gratuity for anganwadi workers in this year’s agenda. Although pension and honorarium are not provided immediately due to the NPS-Lite scheme’s Mumbai-centric fund transfer process, we are streamlining the procedures for quicker disbursement. We’re creating a new domain for funds distribution, ensuring enhanced security and user-friendly access.”
She added, “This year, we plan to offer gratuity based on their years of service post-retirement. Despite not being considered government employees, we provide them with benefits like Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, maternity leaves, death claims, and medical reimbursements.”
Experts say that the government urgently needs to address the concerns of Anganwadi workers, including increasing their honorarium and implementing a pension scheme. Public policy professor from Pune, Mr. Nitin Sharma, said, “Rigorous training for anganwadi workers is important, along with increased monthly honorarium. Overall, the government must prioritize the well-being and training of Anganwadi workers to improve service delivery. This way, improving worker pay and engaging with them at a ground level can significantly enhance the effectiveness of the anganwadi program.”