New Delhi: When Samie Jan from South Kashmir’s Pulwama district joined the National Health Mission (NHM) as a health facilitator on contractual basis in 2011, she was overwhelmed and determined to serve the people of her district. Now, seven years later, her unwavering resolve seems to be weakening. Since the last 27 days, Samie along with thousands of NHM workers, has been protesting against the authorities, bringing the health machinery in the state to a halt. The protesting workers have raised two major demands: regularisation of jobs and equal pay for equal work.
“I have been working on contractual basis since the last seven years. We are not demanding anything big, only our basic rights. Is it wrong to ask for equal pay for equal work? After working for years, all one wants is job security, right? Every day I visit houses of pregnant women and children and ensure they are properly taken care of. Yet I receive paltry wages. Even we have a family to look after and if we are unable to feed our families then it’s the government which is responsible. After all, we have been working diligently for years,” said Samie. She alleged that the government’s attitude toward the workers has been indifferent.
This not the first time that Samie and other NHM workers have been protesting for their basic rights. In 2017, the protesting NHM workers were ensured by then People’s Democratic Party- Bharatiya Janata Party government that a committee would be formed to look into their demands.
After this, a committee of officers was constituted, comprising Director Health Services, Mission Director National Health Mission and Additional Secretary H&ME department, to look into the issue of job security and submit a report.
“A committee was constituted and the officers conceded our demands of job regularisation and financial security. But the report of the committee, recommending phased regularisation, stands submitted in the Finance Department and nothing has been implemented as yet,” said Musadiq Rafiq, State President, TB workers employees’ association, under the NHM. The failure of the finance department to take a call on the matter had led to a series of strikes in 2018.
In 2018, after a month-long agitation by NHM employees across the state against the “false” promises of the government, the then Minister of Health and Medical Education held a meeting with representatives of NHM employees, making certain on-spot commitments, amongst which, regularisation of jobs and job security were referred to a Group of Officers. But these issues remain unaddressed till date.
“After series of failed promises, we are left with no other alternative but to observe a strike to remind the government about its commitments. We have been observing sit-in protest at Pratap Park, Srinagar. Today, we entered the 27th day of our strike,” Rafiq told Newsclick.
Health Services Affected
Meanwhile, nearly 60% health centres, including primary health centres, amongst others are facing shortage of doctors because of the protesting workers. An NHM worker, requesting anonymity, said, “The shortage of doctors reveals how important our role is in the health sector. It’s the government’s failure, as it doesn’t acknowledge our role. Successive governments have failed to address our problems. We have been forced to go on strike,” he added.
NHM workers play a huge role in delivering medical services at the grassroot levels. Launched in 2005, NHM aims at strengthening the public health system in the country, both in rural areas through National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and in urban areas through National Urban Health Mission (NUHM). The vision of NHM was to provide “Health for All” making it accessible and affordable in the rural areas. The share of NHM in the total health budget has consistently declined since 2014-15 from 61% to 49% in 2019-20, showcasing the government’s disinterest.
Meanwhile, locals are agitated and have accused the authorities of failing to alleviate the crisis that has erupted following the strike by NHM workers, especially in the rural areas.
A tweet by DC Bandipora, Shahid Choduhary, meanwhile, has created an uproar among the protesting workers. In his tweet, Choudhary has threatened the workers who have boycotted work since the last three weeks. “I deeply appreciate the role played by NHM staff but can’t hold public hostage when issues are under consideration. Left with no option, termination notices issued. Public first,” read the tweet.
When asked, an NHM worker said, “If they think by terminating us, they will solve the problem. Let them try. We are here for ailing people but we also a have family to feed.”