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Anganwadi Workers & Helpers Are Entitled To Payment Of Gratuity; Anganwadi Centres Are "Establishments" Under 1972 Act : Supreme Court

Manu Sebastian
25 April 2022 2:25 PM GMT
Anganwadi Workers & Helpers Are Entitled To Payment Of Gratuity; Anganwadi Centres Are Establishments Under 1972 Act : Supreme Court
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In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has held that Anganwadi Workers and Anganwadi Helpers are entitled to the payment of gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972."The 1972 Act will apply to Anganwadi centres and in turn to AWWs(Anganwadi Workers) and AWHs(Anganwadi Helpers)", a bench comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S Oka held while allowing...

In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has held that Anganwadi Workers and Anganwadi Helpers are entitled to the payment of gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.

"The 1972 Act will apply to Anganwadi centres and in turn to AWWs(Anganwadi Workers) and AWHs(Anganwadi Helpers)", a bench comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S Oka held while allowing the appeals filed against a judgment delivered by a division bench of the Gujarat High Court.
"Within a period of three months from today, necessary steps shall be taken by the concerned authorities in the State of Gujarat under the 1972 Act to extend benefits of the said Act to the eligible AWWs and AWHs. We direct that all eligible AWWs and AWHs shall be entitled to simple interest @ 10% per annum from the date specified under sub­section 3A of Section 7 of the 1972 Act", the Court directed.
The issue involved in these appeals was whether Anganwadi workers and Anganwadi helpers appointed to work in Anganwadi centres set up under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (for short "ICDS") are entitled to gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 (for short "the 1972 Act"). The ICDS is a Central Government scheme implemented by the State Governments.
The appellants were Anganwadi workers and/or their organisations. The Controlling Authority under the 1972 Act held that they are entitled to gratuity. This finding was affirmed by a single bench of the Gujarat High Court. However, the division bench of the High Court, on appeals filed by District Development Officer, set aside the single bench verdict.
The Division Bench held that AWWs and AWHs could not be said to be employees as per Section 2(e) of the 1972 Act, and the ICDS project cannot be said to be an industry. It was held that as the remuneration or honorarium paid to them cannot be treated as wages within the meaning of Section 2(s) of the 1972 Act, they are disentitled to gratuity.
Supreme Court's analysis : Anganwadi workers performing statutory duties
The main judgment authored by Justice Oka at the outset noted that Anganwadi centres are performing the statutory duty of implementing provisions of Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the National Food Security Act, 2013 to ensure nutritional support for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children.
The judgment also noted that as per a resolution issued by the Gujarat Governemnt, one of the important functions of Anganwadi centres is to conduct pre­primary education activities for the children of the age group of 3 to 6 years by following the pre­school timetable and by using the pre­school kit. For giving effect to Section 11 of the RTE Act, a provision has been made by the State Government to conduct pre­primary schools for children above the age of three years in the Anganwadi centre.
In this backdrop, Justice Oka observed that Angwadi workers and helpers are holding a statutory post :
"In view of the provisions of the 2013 Act and Section 11 of the RTE Act, Anganwadi centres also perform statutory duties. Therefore, even AWWs and AWHs perform statutory duties under the said enactments. The Anganwadi centres have, thus, become an extended arm of the Government in view of the enactment of the 2013 Act and the Rules framed by the Government of Gujarat. The Anganwadi centres have been established to give effect to the obligations of the State defined under Article 47 of the Constitution. It can be safely said that the posts of AWWs and AWHs are statutory posts".
The Gujarat High Court Division Bench had relied on a 2007 judgment in the case State of Karnataka versus Ameerbi (2007) 11 SCC 681 which had held that Anganwadi workers were not holding a civil post for the application of service rules under Article 311 of the Constitution.
Justice Oka observed that the Ameerbi decision was not relevant to this case, in the light of the changes brought by the Food Security Act 2013 to recognize the statutory role of Anganwadi workers.
"In view of the 2013 Act, AWWs and AWHs are no longer a part of any temporary scheme of ICDS. It cannot be said that the employment of AWWs and AWHs has temporary status. In view of the changes brought about by the 2013 Act and the aforesaid Rules framed by the Government of Gujarat, the law laid down by this Court in the case of Ameerbi will not detain this Court any further from deciding the issue. For the reasons stated above, the decision in the case of Ameerbi will not have anybearing on the issue involved in these appeals", the judgment stated.
Plight of AWWSs and AWHs
The judgment then went on to discuss the plight of AWWs and AWHs. Considering the nature of duties specified thereunder, it is full­time employment. In the State of Gujarat, AWWs are being paid monthly remuneration of only Rs.7,800/­ and AWHs are being paid monthly remuneration of only Rs.3,950/­. AWWs working in mini­Anganwadi centres are being paid a sum of Rs.4,400/­ per month.
"For all this, they are being paid very meagre remuneration and paltry benefits under an insurance scheme of the Central Government. It is high time that the Central Government and State Governments take serious note of the plight of AWWs and AWHs who are expected to render such important services to the society", the judgment stated.

It is full­ time employment

The court also refused to accept the contention that the job assigned to AWWs and AWHs is a part-­time job.

"AWWs and AWHs have been assigned all­ pervasive duties, which include identification of the beneficiaries, cooking nutritious food, serving healthy food to the beneficiaries, conducting preschool for the children of the age group of 3 to 6 years, and making frequent home visits for various reasons. Implementation of very important and innovative provisions relating to children, pregnant 28 women as well as lactating mothers under the 2013 Act has been entrusted to them. It is thus impossible to accept the contention that the job assigned to AWWs and AWHs is a part­ time job. The Government Resolution dated 25th November 2019, which prescribes duties of AWWs and AWHs, does not lay down that their job is a part t­ime job. Considering the nature of duties specified thereunder, it is full­ time employment.". Justice Oka said

Anganwadi Centres "Establishment" under Payment of Gratuity Act
The Court held that Anganwadi centres are "establishments" within the meaning of Section 3(b) of the Payment of Gratuity Act.
Section 3 mentiones the entities to which the 1972 Act applices. Section 3(b) reads as follows :
every shop or establishment within the meaning of any law for the time being in force in relation to shops and establishments in a State, in which ten or more persons are employed, or were employed, on any day of the preceding twelve months;
Taking a cue from the wide interpretation given to clause (b) of Section 3 in the case State of Punjab versus Labour Court,Jullunder (1980) 1 SCC 4 , the Court said that 'establishments' contemplated by clause (b) can be establishments within the meaning of any law for the time being in force in a State in relation to establishments.
In this regard, the judgment referred to Section 2(e) of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition Act) which defines "establishment" as :
(i) any office or department of the Government or a local authority or
(ii)...
Since Anganwadi centres are working like an arm of the government, the Court held that they are "establishment" within the meaning of Section 2(e) of the Contract Labour Act. It means, Angwanwadi centres comes within the phrase "establishment within the meaning of any law for the time being in force" under Section 3(b) of the Gratutity Act.
"It is not the case of the State Government that every Anganwadi centre is a separate entity. Anganwadi centres and Mini Anganwadi centres are a part of the Anganwadi establishment of the State Government. The Anganwadi centres have been employing ten or more AWWs and AWHs in the State. Therefore, I have no manner of doubt that Anganwadi centres are establishments contemplated by clause (b) of sub­section (3) of Section 1 of the 1972 Act", Justice Oka observed.
Wide definition of "wages" under 1972 Act includes honorarium paid to AWWs/AWHs
The Court then noted that the definition of "wages" under Section 2(s) of the Act is very wide meaning all emoluments which are earned by an employee on duty.
"Thus, the honorarium paid to AWWs and AWHs will also be covered by the definition of wages. As AWWs and AWHs are employed by the State Government for wages in the establishments to which the 1972 Act applies, the AWWs and AWHs are employees within the meaning of the 1972 Act".
The judgment further noted that the Central Government has notified educational institutions as establishments covered under the Gratuity Act.
In this regard, the Court observed :
"In the Anganwadi centres, the activity of running a pre­ school for the children in the age group of 3 to 6 years is being conducted. It is purely an educational activity. The job of teaching is done by AWWs and AWHs. The State Government is running pre­-schools in Anganwadi centres in accordance with Section 11 of the RTE Act"
"For the reasons recorded above, I have no manner of doubt that the 1972 Act will apply to Anganwadi centres and in turn to AWWs and AWHs", Justice Oka stated while allowing the appeals.
Justice Ajay Rastogi pens concurring judgment
Justice Ajay Rastogi wrote a separate but concurring judgment to higlight the need to improve their working conditions.
"I would like to observe that the time has come when the Central Government/State Governments has to collectively consider as to whether looking to the nature of work and exponential increase in the Anganwadi centers and to ensure quality in the delivery of services and community participation and calling upon Anganwadi workers/helpers to perform multiple tasks ranging from delivery of vital services to the effective convergence of various sectoral services, the existing working conditions of Anganwadi workers/helpers coupled with lack of job security which albeit results in lack of motivation to serve in disadvantaged areas with limited sensitivity towards the delivery of services to such underprivileged groups, still being the backbone of the scheme introduced by ICDS, time has come to find out modalities in providing better service conditions of the voiceless commensurate to the nature of job discharged by them".

Played significant role in facilitating child nutrition

In his concurring opinion, Justice Ajay Rastogi noted that the Anganwadi workers/helpers, have played a significant role in facilitating child nutrition

"Anganwadi workers/helpers are the key facilitators of child nutrition initiatives at the ground level and involved in performing the work of dissemination, publicity, building awareness, and implementation of various schemes of the Government. No wonder, the strength of Anganwadi Centres has increased manifold by passage of time in the country.", the judge said.

They get only a so called paltry 'honorarium' (much lower than the minimum wages)

Justice Rastogi also noted that the AWWs and AWHs 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. Instead of a salary, they get only a so called paltry 'honorarium' (much lower than the minimum wages) on the specious ground that they are part­ time voluntary workers, working only for about 4 hours a day, the judge said.

"The time has come when the Central Government/State Governments has to collectively consider as to whether looking to the nature of work and exponential increase in the Anganwadi centers and to ensure quality in the delivery of services and community participation and calling upon Anganwadi workers/helpers to perform multiple tasks ranging from delivery of vital services to the effective convergence of various sectoral services, the existing working conditions of Anganwadi workers/helpers coupled with lack of job security which albeit results in lack of motivation to serve in disadvantaged areas with limited sensitivity towards the delivery of services to such underprivileged groups, still being the backbone of the scheme introduced by ICDS, time has come to find out modalities in providing better service conditions of the voiceless commensurate to the nature of job discharged by them.", the judge added.

Senior Advocates Sanjay Parikh and PV Surendranath and Pyoli Advocate On Record appeared for the appellants.
Centre and State opposed the plea
Advocate Aastha Mehta for the State of Gujarat submitted that if gratuity is held to be payable to them, there will be a substantial financial burden on the State exchequer as the amount payable towards gratuity will be more than Rs.25 crores.
Aishwarya Bhati, Addl. Solicitor General of India, submitted that while the Government of India acknowledges the important role of Anganwadi centres in implementing the ICDS scheme and consequently the role of AWWs and AWHs, the provisions of the 1972 Act do not apply to them.
Case Title : Maniben Maganbhai Bhariya versus District Development Officer Dahod and others
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 408



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