January 21, 2009


KOLKATA:The Bengal unit of the Integrated Child Development Scheme or ICDS, a central government project, is by far the largest representative organisation of its kind in Bengal and in the country. The Bengal ICDS unit is affiliated to the CITU. At the all-India level, the unit is a member of the all-India Anganwadi workers’ federation.

The work of the ICDS concerns the health welfare of the mother and the child through a balanced diet of nutrition. The coverage limits the scheme to a child until she or he is of six years. In this realm, the Bengal ICDS has done a continuously exemplary work as far as coverage density and coverage width are concerned. This has been going on with help from the social welfare department of the Bengal Left Front government whose one-time minister and an active ICDS leader is Nirupama Chatterjee who yet heads the organisation as its president.

Each ICDS centre like the one by the side of which I reside in a block of ancient flats in east-central Kolkata, provides a healthy mix of cooked food that comprise rice and / or home-leavened bread (chapatti), lentils and pulses in the form of thick soups, and a variety of green, orange and red vegetables plus milk and potable water keeping in mind the nutritional imperatives of the growing child and the post-partum mother.

The untiring work of ICDS workers in Bengal has helped bring down drastically the rate of child and mother mortality. The ICDS centres also prepare survey reports that are great inputs as developmental indicators. The ICDS workers – they are all women – also help in the tasks of vaccination, schooling, and general social welfare of the child and the mother.

The ICDS workers receive but a pittance from the central government, with the Bengal LF government providing them with what are virtually living wages but even this is not enough. Over and above these travails, the humble but dedicated ICDS worker get no benefits of employment, not even pension and PF facilities, not to speak of cadres, posts, and promotional avenues.

Fluting with impunity the apex court’s order to make the ICDS universal, the successive union governments have carried on with a pitiable state of affairs in the domain of child and mother welfare-- whilst the Bengal LF government is hamstrung by its financial constraints in a state-centre relational structure that heavily tilts towards the latter component.

Of late, as the state conference delegates and speakers from the dais pointed out, the World Bank had sent down a diktat to the docile union government to say that the ICDS project ‘is wasteful and should be restructured.’ This would virtually mean the end of the project as a pro-poor endeavour. The state conference fulminated against this harmful anti-people plan of the central government and raised a set of demands:

1.The ICDS project must be made perennial
2.The scheme must not be privatised
3.Until such time, each Anganwadi worker must receive a wage of Rs 3500 and each Anganwadi assistant, Rs 2500 per month
4.The sixty-plus Anganwadi workers and assistants must be given a lump sum retirement benefit of respective Re one lakh and Rs 50,000
5.The wage must be increased in keeping with the price indices
6.The project must be universalised
7.The World Bank diktat must not be obeyed

The seventh conference that was held at the Salt Lake stadium elected Nirupama Chatterjee as president, Ratna Dutta as the general secretary and Manasi Das as the treasurer of the Bengal unit of the ICDS workers’ association. The open rally that saw the commencement of the conference and which was held at the Rani Rashmoni Road crossing, heard addresses by, among others, CPI (M) leaders Shyamal Chakraborty, Subhas Chakraborty, Kali Ghosh, and Arati Dasgupta.

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