‘Provide better services to voiceless’: SC says Anganwadi workers, helpers entitled to gratuity

The Supreme Court on Monday said gratuity – as a social welfare legislation – is of paramount importance to fulfil the legitimate expectation of the employees, as it held that Anganwadi workers and helpers are entitled to gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.

A bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka said the existing working conditions of Anganwadi workers/helpers, coupled with lack of job security, results in lack of motivation to serve in disadvantaged areas with limited sensitivity towards the delivery of services to such underprivileged groups.

The bench said the Anganwadi staff work in proximate quarters with the beneficiaries and their services are utilised for a wide range of activities — survey, promotion of small savings, providing health care, group insurance, or non-formal education. It added the role of Anganwadi workers and helpers is not only at war against malnutrition but have played a pivotal and significant role during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The top court observed that the time has come when the Central or state governments have to provide better services to thousands working in Anganwadi centres, who play a pivotal role in rendering services, set up under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).

Noting that ICDS is one of the flagship programmes of the government and represents one of the world’s largest and unique programmes for early childhood care and development, it said that Anganwadi workers/helpers also function as a bridge between the government and the targeted beneficiaries.

Howeve, of the problems plaguing the Anganwadi workers/helpers, the first and foremost is that they are not holders of civil posts due to which they are deprived of a regular salary and other benefits that are available to employees of the state.

“Time has come to find out modalities in providing better service conditions of the voiceless commensurate to the nature of job discharged by them,” said the bench, in its 72-page judgment.

The top court noted that derived from a Latin word ‘Gratuitas’, the term gratuity means a ‘gift’ and it is a gesture to appreciate the efforts of a person towards the betterment, development, and prosperity of an establishment. “Thus, gratuity, as a social welfare legislation… its effective implementation is of paramount importance to fulfil the legitimate expectation of the employees. So far as the unorganised sectors are concerned, these Acts have been pillars in social security and laid the foundation for improvement in standards of living of the employees,” said the bench.

“ICDS scheme implemented through Anganwadis, a pivotal role is being played by Anganwadi workers and Anganwadi helpers, by taking care of children in the age group 0-6 years, which, as already observed, constitutes around 158 million children as per 2011 census. These children are the future human resource of the country.”

The bench said “socialised childcare” also contributes to the liberation of women: it lightens the burden of looking after children, provides a potential source of remunerated employment for women and gives them an opportunity to build women’s organisations.

“In light of these rich contributions of childcare to social progress, ICDS deserves far greater attention in public policy since ICDS acts as an institutional mechanism for realization of child and women rights. Yet these services are regarded as State largesse rather than as enforceable entitlement,” it said.

The top court made these observations while setting aside a Gujarat High Court judgement, and by separate but concurring views declared that workers and helpers appointed to work in Anganwadi centres set up under ICDS are entitled to gratuity under the 1972 Act.




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