Patna: A day after thousands of contractual health workers in Bihar went into home isolation in support of their nine-point demands,they have returned to work on Thursday following the order of
the Patna High Court and assurances from the state government to consider their demands.
Nearly 27,000 contractual health workers, under the banner of the Bihar Rajya Swasthya Samvida Karmi Sangh, decided to go into home isolation in view of the state government’s apathy. They said the government had ignored their demands for a long period of time.
Sangh secretary Lalan Singh said that they have ended their boycott of work in view of the order of the court during ongoig COVID crisua and assurances of the government to consider their demands."We have ended our strike following court order and the government assurances to consider our long awaited demands.”
However, authorities had earlier directed to lodge FIR against contractual health workers and threatened to end their job contract for going into home isolation during the COVID crisis.
Manoj Kumar, executive director of Bihar state Health Society, directed all district magistrate, superintendent of police and civil surgeons to register FIRs against contractual health workers, who are serving under the National Health Mission, for boycotting work during the pandemic crisis.
Kumar in his circular sent to all districts stated that the contractual health workers' decision to go into home isolation has affected the ongoing COVID-19 testing and vaccination process and treatment of
COVID patients in the state. He also termed their decision ‘unauthorised’.
According to health department officials, the government has instructed concerned authorities in the districts to identify all such contractual health workers who are allegedly stopping other employees
from working by force and putting pressure on them to join their work boycott. They would be booked under the Epidemic Disease Act and other relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Lalan Sing, secretary of Bihar Rajya Swasthya Samvida Karmi Sangh, said the contractual health workers would not bow before the government’s pressure to end home isolation. “We are fighting for our rights and justice,” he said.
Singh said that the government will have to face an acute shortage of health workers if it continues to neglect us.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) state Secretary Kunal said that the directive to register FIR against contractual health workers was wrong and repressive move. "The government should talk to them and convince them to join the work during the COVID crisis,” Kunal said.
From government-run COVID dedicated hospitals to sadar hospitals at district headquarters, referral hospitals at the subdivision, block level and primary health centres, the contractual workers have more than played an active role in managing the disease.
They have been assisting COVID-19 patients starting from registration to the screening process to even the sealing of the dead bodies of COVID patients. “Contractual health workers are underpaid, but despite that, they have been risking their lives to help in the treatment of patients. The government has neglected them so far,” Singh said.
The Sangh leaders said they have submitted letters to the government on multiple occasions about their demands, but stressed that nothing had happened so far. "We have been forced to go into home isolation to exert pressure for the fulfilment of our demands. We had informed all district civil surgeons and other district health officials about our decision of home isolation from May 12,” he added.
The contractual health workers’ demands include increasing their honorarium by revising their salaries, Rs 50 lakh as health insurance, family pension and other benefits.
According to the Karmi Sangh, all contractual health workers posted at district-level or primary health centres, through a memorandum submitted to district health officials, informed state health officers on May 10 that they would go into home isolation from May 12 as most of them had come in contract with COVID-19 patients during work hours. Despite being informed, no attention was paid, the Karmi Sangh said.
Singh said that the government should treat them at par with other working employees. "We are risking our lives by directly being involved in COVID-19 treatment, testing and vaccination, both in rural and urban areas. If a contractual health worker dies after being infected during work, he or she should be provided insurance and other help as their family members are solely dependent on them," he added.
After a gap of over 20 days, COVID positive cases have decreased and active cases also reduced from over 1 lakh to below 1 lakh after a week.
Bihar has 99,623 active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, with 9,863 new cases reported. Much to the state's relief, its recovery rate has risen to 83.43%. As per official release, the COVID situation is improving in the state. However, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has extended the lockdown for another
ten days from May 15 to 25 in view of effective results to control the spread of infection.