An Anganwadi worker, a mother of three, was dismissed from service for having more than two children in Mumbai. The Maharashtra government, in a written communique in March, informed Tanvi Sodaye that she was being dismissed from work since she had not adhered to its ‘Small Family’ rules.
The letter sent to her mentioned a 2014 Government Resolution mandated that state employees in various departments, including the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, must not have more than two children.
Sodaye moved the Bombay High Court challenging the state government’s decision. She had begun working for the state’s ICDS scheme in 2002 and was promoted to the post of an Anganwadi Sevika in 2012.
Sodaye challenged the decision saying that her dismissal from service should not hold ground because she was already eight months pregnant with her third child when the August 2014 order came into effect.
While Sodaye approached the high court in April this year, just a month after her dismissal, her plea was taken up by the court for hearing for the first time only last week.
Sodaye’s lawyer told the high court bench that his clients appointment letter, or the letter confirming her promotion to an Anganwadi Sevika, did not have any clause restricting the number of children she could have. He also argued, since she was already eight months pregnant when the resolution came into effect, in her case, applying its provisions would mean applying a law retrospectively. The same, he said, was unfair and urged the court to quash the state's order of her dismissal.
The representatives of the state however, told the bench that though the August 2014 resolution was introduced by the Women and Child Development Department to define the terms and conditions of the appointment of Anganwadi Sevikas and other employees under the ICDS, the government had been propagating the 'Small Family' Rules since 2005. The state told the bench that under the 2005 Rules, 'Small Family' was defined to mean, "a family of husband and wife with two children or less".
Such candidates across several government departments, who did not fit into this definition, either faced disqualification from future employment prospects, lost out on several benefits, or faced dismissal from their services, said the lawyer, who appeared for the state.
The bench has now directed the state to place on record all communications and resolutions issued so far on the subject, by October 3, which is the next date of hearing.
The ICDS is a government programme which provides food, pre-school education and healthcare to children under 6 years of age and their mothers. Child care centres set up under the scheme are managed by anganwadi workers.