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Haryana: Union Leaders Allegedly Arrested Amid One-Day Strike of ASHAs

On Wednesday, the mission director of the NHM-Haryana directed all civil surgeons in the state to ensure that no ASHA worker participate in the protest.

On Thursday, leaders of the unions were allegedly arrested by local police. Image Courtesy - Facebook/CITU Haryana

New Delhi: Thousands of Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) across Haryana staged a one-day work strike on Thursday. However, the state government, having imposed the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), allowed arrests of union leaders by local police early in the day.

Initial reports coming in from the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)-Haryana unit, which has been spearheading the agitation of health activists in the state, suggest that at least 13 of its leaders from different districts have been arrested or put under house arrest till Thursday’s evening.

Among those arrested are Surekha, state president of CITU-Haryana, and Sunita, general secretary of the CITU-backed ASHA Workers’ Union (AWU) in the state.

Many of our leaders in numerous districts have either been arrested or put under house arrest today,” AR Sindhu, national secretary, CITU alleged, while speaking to Newsclick over the telephone on Thursday. She added that ASHAs, the all-women workforce attached to the National Health Mission (NHM), had announced to stage a one-day strike on the fateful day to press for their long pending demands.

Thousands of them (ASHAs) participated in the strike despite the arrests. The striking women staged protest and condemned the police action against the union leaders,” Sindhu claimed.

There are over 20,000 ASHAs in Haryana, who, as in other parts of the country, are health volunteers and act as a critical link between the healthcare system and the community.

ASHAs, under the NHM, are entitled to task-based incentives for more than 60-odd activities, as listed by the Centre. In addition to this, the ASHAs have also been receiving a Rs 2,000 incentive for the Centre for a set of routine activities. Over and above the performance-based incentives, the states are also allowed to fix a monthly payment for the ASHAs; it amounts to Rs. 4,000 in Haryana.

The total honorarium received by the ASHAs had not seen an increment since past four years, AWU said in a press statement on Wednesday, adding that this was despite the fact the during this period, the price of essential items have surged due to inflation. The statement added that on February 3, the protesting union was assured regarding an immediate settling of their demands in a meeting that was chaired by state Health Minister Anil Vij, but to no avail.

On Wednesday, responding to the strike call, the mission director of NHM-Haryana directed all civil surgeons in the state to ensure that no ASHA worker participated in the protest in their respective districts in view of the ESMA.

ESMA, which prohibits all types of gatherings or strikes by government employees, was ordered to be imposed by the Manohar Lal Khattar-led Haryana government on January 11 this year to cover all the state health department employees for a period of six months.

Calls made to the mission director’s office in Haryana’s Panchkula by Newsclick to get his comments over the arrests made on Thursday elicited no response.

Meanwhile, the latest strike action by ASHAs come at a time when the Anganwadi workers and helpers in thousands across Haryana too are up in arms against the state government for not accepting their demands over an increment in their pay. Earlier, this week on Monday, they staged a mahapadav in Karnal, that was metamorphosed into an indefinite protest by the striking women in the city.

Sindhu of CITU on Thursday informed Newsclick that after the large gathering of striking women near the chief minister’s residence in Karnal, the state government “came under pressure,” and invited the union delegation for talks on Friday (February 18).

The last round of talks between the leaders of the striking caregivers and the state government officials, held on January 10, failed to end the stalemate for the fifth time. Thursday marks the 76th day of the indefinite strike of Anganwadi workers in Haryana.

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