The Supreme Court on Monday held that anganwadi workers and helpers are entitled to the payment of gratuity, The Hindu reported.

Anganwadi workers and helpers are appointed under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme. They carry out a number of tasks such as providing supplementary nutrition to infants and expectant mothers, helping health workers distribute medicines and conducting surveys.

They are paid an honorarium from the Union government, in addition to an allowance from state governments.

On Monday, a bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S Oka held that the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 is applicable to such workers and helpers. The verdict came on an appeal filed by a group of anganwadi workers against a Gujarat High Court verdict that held that they were not entitled to gratuity, Live Law reported.

It was time that the Union government and state governments should “collectively consider” improving the working conditions of anganwadi workers and helpers, the judges said. They observed that a lack of motivation among them would have a crippling effect on the tasks that they carry out.

The court also called for greater attention to the Integrated Child Protection Scheme.

“The scheme acts as an institutional mechanism for realisation of child and women rights,” it said, according to The Hindu. “Yet these services are regarded as state largesse rather than as enforceable entitlements.”

The bench also observed that socialised child care contributes to the liberation of women by easing their task of looking after children and providing them with a potential source of employment.

Justice Oka, who wrote the main judgement, said that anganwadi workers perform statutory duties and that anganwadi centres have become an extended arm of the government. Justice Rastogi noted that the workers do not hold civil posts, due to which they are deprived of a regular salary, according to Live Law.

The Union government and the Gujarat government had opposed the petition. The state government said that the payment of gratuity to anganwadi workers would lead to an additional financial burden of over Rs 25 crore,

The Centre said that while it acknowledges the role that the workers play, they are not covered by the provisions of the Payment of Gratuity Act.