No poll duty for Anganwadi workers: Allahabad High Court

The Allahabad High Court has ordered that Anganwadi workers in the state should not be engaged in election and other related duties as this may adversely affect public health .

In an order passed on Wednesday, Justice Alok Mathur said, “This court is of the view that work which is being discharged by Anganwadi workers is of considerable importance, looking at the fact that in one block there is only one worker. In case that one Anganwadi worker is assigned election duty or any other work then the nursing and lactating women including pregnant women would not be taken care of and it would adversely affect the health of the public at large.”

The court was hearing a petition filed by Anganwadi workers from Barabanki district, including one Manisha Kanaujia, seeking direction from the court for officials to comply with orders passed by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary – dated 19.11.2019 and 03.05.2017 – as well as a Government Order dated 9.11.2013 which restrains officials from engaging Anganwadi workers/helpers in non-Integrated Child Development Services Schemes (ICDS).

The petition also cited two government orders issued by the Centre that restrict officials from assigning Anganwadi workers/helpers duties in local body elections.

Abhilasha Pandey, the counsel for the petitioners, submitted that workers are assigned Booth Level Officers’ (BLO) duty which is an election-related full-time job and not a departmental task.

“The caretaking and all round development of young children in the 3-6 years age group and the services rendered to pregnant and lactating mothers are adversely hampered by such duties which is a clear violation of child rights,”  the advocate submitted to the court.

“A child is eligible for free nutrition, healthcare and education for at least 300 days in a year as envisaged in the Food Security Act, 2013, New Education Policy, 2020 and National Policy for Children, 2013,” she stated.

“The work done by Anganwadi workers cannot be undermined by passing any direction for discharge of duties by departments, specially during elections,” Pandey said.

In a counter affidavit, the Barabanki district administration said, “the work of elections is of supreme importance in a Democracy and all officers have to act and assist during the process”. The counter affidavit did not include any answer to the “various Government Orders issued either by the Chief Secretary, Government of U.P. or by Government of India and also directions issued by the Apex Court in this regard”.

While allowing the petition, the court said that BLOs and various other departments are restrained from passing any orders engaging Anganwadi workers in any other work/duty including election duty.

“Let a copy of this order be served upon the Chief Secretary, Government of U.P., Lucknow, so that he may pass necessary orders and direct the District Magistrates accordingly,” the court added.

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