Thousands of flagship scheme women workers began a two-day protest here on Monday against the Government’s move to give ‘private contracts’ under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
The anganwadi women from 25 States, who are set to meet the Prime Minister, also demanded being treated as ‘workers’ and not ‘volunteers’ and sought a minimum wage of Rs 10,000 a month.
Referring to the recent scams concerning nutritional food contracts in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, A. R Sindhu of the Anganwadi Women Workers and Helpers Federation, said, “In many States, the entire scheme or some services are being handed over to big corporate houses such as Vedanta or NGOs such as Nandi Foundation, ISKON, which are setting up centralised kitchens that can cook one or two lakh meals at a time. This is against the basic concept of the scheme to provide freshly cooked meals to children.”
She claimed that in some States, the anganwadi workers were being asked to collect ‘user fees’ from the beneficiaries.
A Supreme Court panel recently unearthed a scam in Maharashtra involving Rs 10,000 crore, where money meant for the ICDS for providing nutritious meals to malnourished children was pocketed by a handful of big companies.
In Uttar Pradesh, late Ponty Chadha’s firm, Great Value Food, is said to have been bagging ICDS contracts worth crores since 2005.
Sources said this was being done in violation of a 2004 Supreme Court order that had said that only self-help groups, mahila mandals, village communities and village-based industries could be given contracts for supply of food for ICDS.
Business Line recently reported that metals major Vedanta, through its foundation, had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Karnataka Government to adopt and support 2,635 anganwadi centres being run under the Government-sponsored ICDS in Chikkaballapura, Bangalore and Ramanagara.
ICDS is a Centrally-sponsored scheme aimed at providing nutritious food to pre-school children in rural, tribal and slum areas. At present, there are 88,272 anganwadis across the country.