Lucknow: Scores of contractual Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) from Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's home turf Gorakhpur have been protesting outside the Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Jungle Kauria for over a week, demanding regularisation of all contractual staff, equal pay for equal work on the lines of regular staff and health insurance benefits of the state government during COVID-19.
The ANMs, who have been boycotting work for the past week in Gorakhpur, Deoria, Mahrajganj, Shravasti, Bahraich, Prayagraj, Sonbhadra, Hardoi, Bahraich, Gonda and Balrampur region while wearing black ribbon under the banner of ANM Sanvida Sangh, have threatened to go on mass strike on May 24 if their demands are not fulfilled at the earliest.
The protesting ANMs said that they have been working on contract basis for the past 5-13 years but have not been given permanent jobs. “ANMs are at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 putting their lives at risk in rural Uttar Pradesh. We were given the task of tracing and surveillance work for COVID-19. We are being paid Rs 10,000 to 13,000 per month. The state government should revise our salary and grant equal pay for equal work," Premlata Pandey, president of ANM Sanvida Sangh, Uttar Pradesh, an organisation that works for raising the grievances of contractual ANM workers, told NewsClick, adding that the state Health Department had promised in 2017 that all the contractual health workers will be regularised as per their working experience. However, nothing has been done yet.
“We have been protesting across Uttar Pradesh for the last one year, but the concerned authorities have failed to act on our grievances. Is this the reward for all our works and sacrifices during the COVID-19 crisis?,” rued an ANM worker.
It is worth mentioning that the state government had engaged over 16,000 ANMs on contractual basis to augment the health workforce for smooth functioning of Community Health Centres, Primary Health Centres and Public Health Centres in the state.
There are about 7,000 contractual ANMs, who are deployed 100 to 800 kms away from their home district. According to the ANM Sanvida Sangh, an ANM from Etawah district has been posted in Gorakhpur district while onefrom Bahraich district has been posted in Sonbhadra. As such among other demands, they are also demanding to transfer them to their home district.
NO COMPENSATION FOR FAMILIES OF NURSES WHO DIED OF COVID-19
Lakshmi Verma (25), a contractual Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM) posted at the Community Health Centre in Bijoli village in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut district, allegedly died due to COVID-19 on April 24.
Her family received no compensation despite she being the foot soldier of the government’s fight against COVID-19.
"My daughter Lakshmi was working as an ANM for the last four-and-a-half years, she was posted in adjacent district Meerut. She would commute daily from Hapur to Meerut, a distance of around 28 km. She returned home on April 21 after completing her duty, and soon after, started complaining of body ache. In the next few days, we did every possible thing to get her proper treatment in our village Rampura Bankhanda but that didn't work. Finally on April 23, we took her to Dev Nandini Hospital in Hapur where she died during treatment," Ravindra Singh Verma, Lakshmi’s father, who is a ward boy posted at the Garh Mukteshwar Community Health Centre (CHC) told NewsClick.
Verma claimed that even though his daughter died of COVID-19 symptoms, the hospital authorities sent a COVID-19 negative report to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and mentioned that her test was done on April 25. "My daughter died on April 24 and she had severe complications of COVID-19. She was even getting treatment for the same disease. But it is highly irresponsible and insensitive of both the hospital and administration that they are not ready to accept the truth,"the distraught father said.
Similarly, Anita Yadav, another ANM posted at the Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Ujariyaon village, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow, allegedly succumbed to COVID-19 related complications on April 25 in the her village Parsiya Bansi in Deoria district. She was working as an ANM for the last seven years in Lucknow area.
Nand ji Yadav, Anita’s brother-in-law, said, “My bhabhi (sister-in-law) was posted at CHC Ujariyaon, Lucknow. I am preparing for competitive examinations and we stayed together in a rented room in Gomti Nagar area. She contracted the infection on duty and was taking medicine given by the department.”
He added, “A few days later on April 23, her health deteriorated and her oxygen level started going down. Since there was chaos due to shortage of oxygen in Lucknow, we took her to our village in Deoria district and arranged for oxygen and medicine. She recovered a bit but next day again her oxygen level dipped to 35. The doctors referred her to Gorakhpur and she died on the way to hospital.”
The family members of both victims claim that not a single government official has visited them nor have they received any compensation so far. “Anita was working relentlessly throughout the pandemic for the last one year. She did not even get leave on Sundays, but when she died no one came for condolence,” Anita’s husband told NewsClick.
The ANM Sanvida Sangh claimed that at least four permanent ANMs have died due to COVID-19 in Mirzapur and Sitapur, but have gone unreported.
Equal Pay for Equal Work
"All we want is equal pay for equal work. We staged the hunger strike and also wrote to the chief minister to get the government’s attention on the matter. The government has repeatedly promised to look into the matter but haven’t done anything so far. We want that all the contractual ANMs should be posted in their home district; they should be given a salary of Rs 25,000 per month till permanent appointment and last but not least that families of ANM personnel who died due to the deadly virus should be given Rs 50 lakh as ex gratia," Premlata told NewsClick.
Echoing similar views, Suchitra Singh (name changed), another ANM from Meerut deputed at the PHC in Jungle Kauria, Gorakhpur, said that despite having 10 years of experience, she is working on minimum wages. “We are the frontline workers as far as COVID-19 care is concerned. We are also part of the Rapid Response Team (RRT) and are engaged in vaccination in rural areas but as far as salary is concerned, we are getting only Rs 11,000. The state government should revise our salary and grant equal pay for equal work,” she said.
The ANM workers have also been protesting against the Postgraduate Entrance Test (PET), announced by the state government for the selection process, leading to fear among ANMs that they may lose even their contractual jobs if they are to go through the competitive exam.
“We have already given exam conducted by National Health Mission (NHM), then why this PET test? Most of the women have been working for the last 5-10 years on contract basis. We work here for eight hours, and then go home and look after our family. Now, the government wants us to study maths and reasoning for the exam,” another ANM said on condition of anonymity.
“On the order of Allahabad High Court, the Akhilesh government in 2013 recruited ANMs on contractual basis and again he advertised for 3,500 ANM posts in 2016. But when Yogi Adityanath came to power, he cancelled the vacancies and in 2018 he came with an order that ANM recruitment will be held through written test which will be conducted by Uttar Pradesh Subordinate Service Selection Committee (UPSSSC). He even passed this in a cabinet meeting,” a member of the ANM Sanvida Sangh highlighted.
She added, “Adityanath did not stop there, he again passed an order that after qualifying Postgraduate Entrance Test (PET), the applicant must pass written test by UPSSSC. Now, the question arises when an ANM has given her 10 years serving the government and carrying out door-to-door survey be it during COVID-19 or any other crisis, how will she prepare for competition at this age?”