Aside from the ongoing farmers' protests, which began in June last year, various sections of employees and workers and even unemployed people have been on the streets demanding a resolution of their problems. Doctors, teachers, transport workers, Anganwadi workers and a section of the unemployed youth have been protesting against the Congress-led government in Punjab.
Doctors from Punjab's government hospitals, who had gone on strike on the eve of National Doctors' Day on Thursday, have extended their protest by another day after Gurmail Singh, an association leader, was transferred to Fazilka district. Singh, who was at the forefront of the protest, worked out of Bathinda district. The protesting doctors have alleged that he was being targeted for speaking out against the government.
“This is a clear case of targeting. It has been done with the intention to shut us down. Given the backdrop we have extended our protest. We will go on an indefinite strike if the transfer order is not cancelled,” said Dr. Gagandeep Singh, state president, Punjab Civil Medical Services Association (PCMS).
The doctors have been protesting against the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendation regarding the delinking of Non-Practising Allowance (NPA) from basic pay and the reduction of NPA. As part of the protest the doctors have suspended their services except for emergencies, COVID-19 and rape cases and post-mortems.
A huge protest was observed in Bathinda district on Friday from where Singh has been transferred.
The call for a strike was given by the Joint Government Doctors Coordination Committee, an umbrella organisation of different doctor unions in Punjab, including the Punjab State Veterinary Officers Association, Rural Medical Officers’ Association, Punjab Dental Medical Officers Association and the Punjab Ayurveda Officers Association, besides the medical and dental teachers’ associations.
“The NPA that we used to receive as a part of our salary has been delinked, turning it into another arrear. This will affect our basic pay. At a time when doctors and healthcare workers are at the forefront risking their lives, different ways have been used to reduce our salaries instead of increasing it,” said Dr. Rohit Rampal, who is also protesting against the move.
Doctors have also been opposing the reduction in NPA. “We have been demanding that the NPA be increased to 33% but in return the government has reduced it from 25% to 20%,” Rampal added.
Protests in Punjab have picked up pace ahead of the Assembly Election next year. Over the last two months, several groups of employees and workers have protested against the government over different issues.
On June 30, unemployed youth under the banner of the Berozgar Sanjha Morcha (BSM) protested outside the residence of CM Amarinder Singh demanding jobs. The protestors included those who had cleared BEd and TET, healthcare workers, DPE teachers, art and craft teachers and PTI teachers.
“We have been protesting for the last 183 days outside the residence of education minister Vijay Inder Singla. He has not been showing up to his residence these days. Our demands are basic: recruitment of unemployed youth and age-relaxation. The Congress has failed on its pre-poll promise,” said Sukhwinder Singh, a BSM leader.
The month-long protest by the contractual sanitation workers who are Class IV employees of 117 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) had mounted pressure on the Punjab government after the protesters suspended work, resulting in heaps of garbage across the state. The workers continued the protest until their demands were met after which the garbage was clearled.
Non-Permanent (contractual) teachers of the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) have also been sporadically protesting, demanding job regularisation and a salary increase. Reportedly, 13,000 teachers, some of whom have been working for over 15 years, have not yet been regularised. The teachers have accused government of giving “false promises” and postponing the meeting.
Newsclick had covered the three-day strike by Punjab's transport workers and truckers who were demanding the regularisation of contractual employees and a reduction in fuel prices. The price of petrol in Punjab has hit the Rs 100 per litre mark. Meanwhile, diesel prices have also shot up to about Rs 91 per litre as of June 28. The rise in the prices of petrol and diesel is significant when compared to last year when the petrol price was at Rs 69 per litre and diesel was at Rs 61 per litre.
Anganwadi workers too have been protesting on regular intervals and pressing for their demands. On June 25, the workers gheraoed the residence of Congress MLAs and ministers. The workers have been demanding increase in wages, the status of a healthcare worker and the implementation of Central insurance for health workers, among others.
For last few days, farmers in Punjab have been protesting over irregular power supply as they had been facing problems in irrigating their fields. The farmers had given an ultimatum to the government to ensure at least eight hours of supply to farms by July 5.
“The paddy crop is drying up while farmers are trying to save their crops by buying expensive diesel,” a joint statement by the farm unions said.
The protest by residents and farmers led the Punjab CM to order curtailment of power used by industries by imposing two-day weekly offs on general industries, rolling mills, and on arc and induction furnaces with immediate effect till July 3.
The government also appealed the government-sector offices to use power judiciously and switch off air conditioners.
Experts say these protests have ramped up pressure on the Punjab government which is already facing infighting within the party.