Lucknow: At a time when the number of COVID-19 cases have been mounting in Uttar Pradesh, emergency ambulance service provider GVK-Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI) has decided to halt its Advanced Life Support (ALS) '108' ambulance operations from October citing increasing losses and unresolved issues with the state government.
The company’s 1,000 employees, including 500 drivers, 46 support staffers, 29 call centre executives, 400 emergency medical technicians (EMT) and eight response officers, have been served termination notice for discontinuation of their services from October 16.
The government had signed a memorandum of understanding with GVK EMRI to provide ambulance services, for which infrastructure was created by the state government. However, problems such as lack of timely funds have been plaguing the service for the past several years owing to which a large number of ambulances were in a dilapidated state.
The sudden termination of contract has kicked up a controversy.
Uttar Kumar Chauhan, an emergency medical technician, said the president of the Ambulance Workers’ Association had been informed about the GVK EMRI's decision to shut it service on October 16 in view of "mounting losses and inadequate funds from the state". Shocked by the move, he said the company employees were working tirelessly amid the pandemic even after getting job termination notices.
"On September 11, GVK EMRI issued a notice to terminate the contract of employment about 650 of its employees of Advanced Life Support ambulance service. The contract between Uttar Pradesh government and ALS is being postponed due to unavoidable reasons. In such a situation, all employees were asked to submit papers, files, records and other materials related to the work of the organisation on the last day of their working day," an employee told NewsClick on the condition of anonymity, adding that at a time when they needed the job most, they were being terminated.
Hanuman Pandey, an office bearer of the drivers' body, said that COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the state. The number of infected persons has exceeded over three lakh. "We were called corona warriors by the government and when we need their support, we are being shown the door," said Pandey, adding that instead of termination, ALS employees could have been shifted to the 102 Ambulance Service which has a shortage of employees.
NewsClick approached Madan Sharma, Human Resources head, GVK EMRI, who confirmed the closure of the ALS project. "Yes, we are going to close this project from next month due to unavoidable circumstances and we have given termination letter to 650 employees," he said.
When asked for the reason behind the move, Sharma said there were several reasons to stop the service but the prime reason was fund crunch. "The delay in payment from the government forced us to close this project. GVK EMRI did not get paid on time by the state government despite several requests,” he added.
It may be recalled that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had launched ‘Advanced Life Support Ambulance’ to serve the poor people of the state on September 13, 2017, soon after assuming office. A total of 150 ambulances were launched by the chief minister across 75 districts. Under the scheme, two ambulances, equipped with life-saving technologies, was deployed in each district.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh ambulance workers' association took this opportunity to target the Bharatiya Janata Party government for not keeping its promise and not utilising the funds.
"We remember the day and date when Yogi Adityanath launched the project and gave job to thousands of people and said it would fulfil all promises made in the BJP’s election manifesto, but in three years, we are being kicked out. Is this the promise of BJP govt?" said an employee who has received the lay-off notice.
The 108 and 102 emergency ambulance services in Uttar Pradesh are managed and operated by a private company - GVK - under contract with the state government. There are a total of about 4,500 such ambulances deployed across the state, according to the Ambulance Employees' Association. The association says 17,000 workers - drivers and emergency technicians - are posted in these ambulances. These employees are on contract with the private firm.