Anganwadi protest: change of minister, signs of heat on AAP
The replacement of Rajendra Paul Gautam as Minister of Women and Child Development is an indication that the Delhi government is beginning to worry about the anganwadi bustle which shows no signs of slowing down, with civic polls on the horizon.
Gautam’s dismissal was a low-key move, coming days after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had already carried out a cabinet reshuffle to address other issues.
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Anganwadi workers and helpers have been protesting since January 31, demanding an increase in their monthly fees.
Sources said the main reason for Gautam’s withdrawal was that the Anganwadi protests got a lot of media attention and the minister was unable to handle the situation and resolve the issue.
Show cause notices to approximately 3,000 to 4,000 workers and notice of termination on 27 for having actively participated in the demonstration had no deterrent effect and could only have aggravated the situation.
Party leaders see the unrest as disconcerting at a time when the AAP is trying to raise its political profile in other states on the back of its governance model, apart from the municipal polls that are to come. The AAP expects the Punjab victory summit, apart from the BJP‘s anti-incumbency in the companies it has run for 15 years, to help it sweep municipal polls – with the protest being a cloud on the horizon.
The unrest has also affected the functioning of anganwadis, with a consequent effect on pregnant women and young children.
The view within the WCD is also that the approach to protest management has been, and continues to be, more confrontational than it should be. “About 90% of workers and helpers have returned now, but there is pressure to issue (more) layoff notices… Officers are being pressured to sign these notices for all workers and helpers who don’t didn’t join their centers until March 9. A lot of us don’t want to do that…these are people who have worked with us for years,” an official said.
Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot, who now holds the WCD portfolio, started the first day of his new assignment with a meeting with officials and a tour of anganwadi centres. “All anganwadi staff have promised to continue working to ensure the smooth running of all centres. I also assured them that the Delhi government will do everything in its power to resolve their grievances. I call on all workers who have not yet returned to resume their duties. We will all have to work together to ensure a safer future for our children,” he said after the visit.
He also issued an order prohibiting Angwanwadi workers willing to work “not to be compelled to be absent from work by disbelievers”. Tax officials have been ordered to visit at least 10 centers a day, and DMs at least one, to ensure they are running smoothly.
However, the Anganwadi workers are determined to continue their protest, even though they have temporarily put it on hold after the imposition of the Haryana Essential Services Continuation Act. They said they would challenge the action in court and boycott both the AAP and the BJP in the municipal elections. “If the government really wants to solve the problem, they should start a conversation and, secondly, withdraw all the redundancy notices… If the court does not rule in our favor, we will resume our strike… Until the time comes. there won’t be. respectful understanding, Anganwadi workers, their families and localities will completely boycott the PAA and ensure that no one in our localities votes for them,” union president Shivani Kaul said.
In another change, the PWD portfolio was taken over by Satyendar Jain’s Kejriwal and given to Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who already holds 10 portfolios like education, finance, excise and others.
Sources in the Delhi government said Jain had to face measures to delay several projects, such as the construction of the underpass and flyover at the busy Ashram Junction, in addition to the ambitious plan for the development of streets to upgrade Delhi’s roads to “European standards”. Not even a single one of these sections has been completed, although complaints about poor road infrastructure and traffic jams have returned as the city is in the midst of deconfinement.
As part of the urban landscape plan, the seven most congested sections of Delhi were selected in 2018 to be redeveloped within a year. Now Sisodia is taking daily updates on ongoing projects and has asked officials to complete them by June 30, sources said.