Isolated BJP drops MESMA against Maharashtra aangawadi workers

Mumbai, March 22 (IANS) Bowing to intense opposition to invoking the stringent Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) on aanganwadi workers, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday stayed the proposal.

Making an announcement in the Assembly, Fadnavis said that in view the sentiments of the House, MESMA would not be imposed on aanganwadi workers.

First announced by Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde on March 15, the move led to political uproar, with even the ruling ally Shiv Sena joining the opposition ranks and clamouring for withdrawal of MESMA on aanganwadi workers.

The Bharatiya Janata Party was virtually isolated after Sena President Uddhav Thackeray termed it as “a draconian law” and assured aanganwadi workers that his party would not allow the government to invoke it.

Demanding its immediate revocation, the opposition parties termed the government’s decision as moving towards ‘dictatorship’ and disrupted the functioning of the legislature.

Munde’s decision effectively banned strikes by the state’s estimated 207,000 aanganwadi workers who help implement crucial policies like the Centre’s Integrated Child Development Scheme to battle malnutrition among infants, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Maharashtra State Aanganwadi Workers Action Committee chief M.A. Patil pointed out that the aanganwadi workers are not given the status of government employees and work on paltry honorarium, with a majority having no other sources of income.

The 2.07 lakh aanganwadi workers working in some 97,000 aanganwadis across the state serving around six million children below the age of six have been on a warpath since the past few weeks for various demands including a hike in their honorarium.

Last year, they went on a 26-day strike after which some demands were conceded by the state government. But aanganwadi workers, who comprise mostly poor, destitute women or widows, say the promises remain unimplemented.

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