Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Rediff.com
Bhopal: The Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh government on Friday withdrew an order that asked the male health workers to ensure at least one male sterilisation a month or lose pay and job, owing to the dismal male sterilisation figures of the state.
Soon after, the National Health Mission State Director Chhavi Bharadwaj, who issued the order, was removed in the evening.
The circular, issued on February 11, 2020, said that all 3,000-plus multi-purpose health workers (MPHWs) must mobilise at least five to 10 ‘willing beneficiaries’ for male sterilisation. Those who fail to get even one man for sterilisation by March 31 will have their salaries withheld until they complete the task, it warned.
District collectors and chief medical and health officers (CMHOs) were asked to identify MPHWs who don’t perform their task and apply the ‘no work, no-pay’ principle. If the situation didn’t improve, collectors could recommend compulsory retirement of MPHWs, the order said.
The order kicked up a controversy when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Sambit Patra held a press conference in Delhi and accused Congress of bringing back the Emergency era, when “males were forcefully sterilised by the government”.
Later, former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan dubbed it “Emergency part-II in MP”. “If health workers fail to meet targets, the government can take action, but the decision to cut their salary and retire them shows dictatorial attitude,” Chouhan tweeted. Newly-appointed BJP state president VD Sharma also targeted the government.
Meanwhile, the government withdrew the order and went into damage control mode. State Health Minister Tulsi Silawat condemned the warning issued to the male health workers and said it stood revoked with immediate effect. Public Relations Minister PC Sharma, said, “The order has been quashed. It was a fault at some level.”
Late Friday evening, the government transferred IAS officer Chhavi Bhardwaj — the driving force behind Bhopal’s Swachh Survekshan silver in 2016-2017 — as OSD at the secretariat. No reason was mentioned in the transfer order, which was issued despite Mahashivratri being a government holiday.
Nevertheless, of the 146 most sensitive districts of the country in terms of population, 26 districts are from MP.
The order was issued by Bhardwaj in the light of dismal sterilisation figures as districts like Betul, Morena and Balaghat haven’t reported even a single male sterilisation. The order cited the National Family Health Survey-4 report, which says only 0.5% men opt for sterilisation in Madhya Pradesh. Of the 3.03 lakh people who underwent sterilisation in 2018 in MP, an overwhelming 98.8% were women. Only 3,727 males underwent the far easier procedure of vasectomy, the data said.
“Tightening the noose on health workers is key to improving male sterilisation index, and when an officer did it, she was removed,” said a senior Health Department official requesting anonymity.
“There is nothing wrong in asking for better male participation in sterilisation and family planning. The order could have been lightly worded,” he further said adding that tubectomy and vasectomy are voluntary, and couples choose the method best suited to them. “There is no coercion.”
‘Circular Was in Interest of Women, Nation’
After the controversy, former Health Department officials and activists came in support of the order and urged the government to rethink the order and transfer of the officer. The order had enforced minimum performance standards for male sterilisation.
“Sterilisation until the 1980s was male-centric. With introduction of laparoscopic tubectomy, 99% of sterilisation is focussed on women. NHM directive of February 11 is in national interest and in interest of women who have to undergo the high-risk procedure. No-scalpel vasectomy (NSV) for male sterilisation is far easier and safer,” said former MP Health Department Director (family planning), Dr B Ohri.
Dr Ohri was felicitated by the central government for promoting family planning and reduction in maternal mortality rate (MMR) and infant mortality rate (IMR) in 2016.
Terming it a matter of human rights and gender equality, child and women’s rights activist, Archana Sahay, said, “It is an issue of basic human rights and gender equality. Why should only women suffer always? Seldom do we find posters or IEC campaigns mobilising males for sterilisation. It is a myth that sterilisation makes the male weak, and it needs to be broken.”
“It’s not the order, it’s the male ego which has hurt with the order. That is why there is ruckus in both the camps and order is withdrawn,” she asserted.
In 2001 survey, the population of Madhya Pradesh was 6.03 crore and in 2011 survey, it was pegged at 7.27 crore with a growth population of 20.35% and 24.34% respectively. “In such a scenario when population is increasing with a growth of 24.34, the population control policies should be implemented very strictly,” said Amulya Nidhi, a health activist and member of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
He further said, “Former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan has no right to criticise the government. He has done nothing in his tenure to promote male sterilisation. When the state government is tightening the noose, he has begun criticising it. Male sterilisation was at the lowest in his tenure.”
Calling it a progressive and necessary order, Nidhi urged Chief Minister Kamal Nath to rethink the transfer of an officer and reinstate the order to promote gender equality.
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