The Andhra Pradesh government on Saturday issued a notification categorising anganwadi workers in the state as “essential workers”, prohibiting them from striking or staging a protest for the next six months, reported The News Minute.

This came as the anganwadi workers’ protest in the state entered its twenty-sixth day. The workers, who had been protesting since December 12 last year, have demanded the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led administration to recognise them as formal government employees, increase their wages from the current Rs 11,500 per month to Rs 26,000, provide them with gratuity benefits and increase their retirement age to 62, in line with other government departments.

The demands are pursuant to an April 2022 order of the Supreme Court, which held that anganwadi workers and helpers are eligible for gratuity benefits.

Anganwadi workers and helpers are appointed under the Centre’s Integrated Child Protection Scheme. They carry out several tasks, including providing supplementary nutrition to infants and expectant mothers, helping health workers distribute medicines and conducting surveys.

On Saturday, the state government said that the workers’ strike has caused a drop in attendance of preschool children, pregnant women and lactating mothers at state-run health centres. It has also affected the growth monitoring of children and pregnant women, in addition to immunisation efforts, it added.

In view of this, the government invoked the Essential Services and Maintenance Act, 1971, against the workers and directed them to resume their duties immediately.

However, union leaders condemned the move and vowed to intensify their agitation.

“Leaders of the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Telugu Desam Party and the affiliated organisations have extended their support to the strike,” VR Jyothi, state general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Pragathiseela Anganwadi Workers and Helpers’ Union, told The Hindu.

Andhra Pradesh is not the only state where anganwadi workers have held protests in recent weeks. In Bihar, anganwadi workers called off a 71-day strike and returned to work on December 9, 2023, after assurances by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The workers’ demands included recognition as formal government employees and an increase in wages.

Nearly two lakh anganwadi workers are also protesting in Maharashtra. They have been on strike since December 4 last year and are marching towards Azad Maidan in Mumbai where they will stage a rally on Wednesday against the state government.