The Bombay High Court has asked the Maharashtra government to procure and distribute over 1.3 lakh mobile phones to aanganwadi workers, even in the remote areas of the state within three months.
A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale noted that there would be difficulty in distribution but pointed out that the district and subordinate court judges who have to work in far-flung or remote areas too faced several difficulties.
POSHAN Tracker App
The aanganwadi workers have to be given mobile phones to update data of beneficiaries – children, expectant mothers and those who have delivered babies – in the POSHAN tracker app of the Central government. Based on this data, the aanganwadi workers are given incentives.
The HC was hearing a petition filed by Anganwadi Karmachari Sanghatna, an association of such workers, challenging a communication issued by the state asking them to fill data of beneficiaries in the app in English.
During the hearing, petitioner’s advocate Gayatri Singh, expressed her apprehension that it would be difficult to deliver the handsets to aanganwadi workers in rural and remote regions, especially in districts like Gadchiroli.
The judges acknowledged that the task would be difficult but asked the government to ensure that new phones reach aanganwadi workers at the earliest. The judges also remarked, “Some of our judicial officers sit with even tigers in their court there.”
State advocate informed the court that the mobile phones would be distributed to aanganwadi workers through vendors. However, the bench was not convinced about letting vendors distribute the handsets.
Justice Patel recounted an incident where vendors were unable to deliver power backup to judicial officers in remote districts of the State as there was no direct transport to these areas.
CDPO can distribute the handsets
The bench then asked the government to take the help of the Child Development Project Officers (CDPO) to distribute the handsets. The bench has asked the government to continue the procurement process even if it does not receive Centre's share of the cost. On the last occasion, the state informed the HC that over ₹43 crore are lying unspent under the Poshan Abhiyan Scheme with the government and on the other hand, the aanganwadi workers are denied incentives as they are unable to update beneficiaries' data due to non-functional mobile phones.
“We are not concerned how the Central and State government arrange the financial affairs of 60-40% funding. We urge the Centre to attend to the matter at maximum possible priority. The process will not be stopped for non-receipt of funds from Centre. The State will proceed,” the Court said.
It also clarified that by virtue of this order, the State will be allowed reimbursement of up to 60% of the funds infused, if any, on behalf of the Centre.
The bench added, “The handsets are required for the ultimate beneficiary which is the mother and children. This is the only way financial support can be made available to beneficiary. That is the primary objective and procedural requirements will not be a hindrance.”
The HC has kept the matter for hearing on October 18.