SUVOJIT BAGCHI, The Hindu
Within weeks of the Chhattisgarh Government’s decision to slow down public-private partnership (PPP) in diagnostic services in the State, another flagship project launched with a private partner has halted service.
The staff of the much-touted mobile hospital service, Mobile Medical Units (MMU), has stopped working for more than a month due to non-payment of salaries. “How do you expect us to work when our salaries are not paid for four months, and that also a bare minimum of Rs. 7,476,” said Saroj Upadhyay, a pharmacist.
The MMUs were launched last November in agreement with a private company to reach out to people in far-flung areas outside big cities under the Chief Minister’s health scheme. Eventually 30 MMUs were pressed into service over the past eight months, but the staff stopped working in early July due to non-payment of salaries.
“I cannot pay my parents who are retired government employees. Rather I’ve been dependent on them for the past four months,” said Sangeeta Ramteke, an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) who works in one of the MMUs in Bastar area.
A young pharmacist has been forced to postpone his sister’s wedding and a driver complained of not being able to have two square meals a day. A doctor who quit his job in June said it was becoming a “trauma” for him to work with MMUs.
“On one hand, there is poor supply of essential medicines like Chloroquin syrup for children or anti-snake venom, while on the other there was no salary. The ANM workers or drivers asked for Rs.15-20 every day. I would have gone mad if I was still working,” said the doctor from South Chhattisgarh.
The doctors working in MMUs are paid Rs. 35,00-40,00 a month, while the other staff like pharmacists, ANMs, drivers and laboratory technicians receive roughly Rs. 7,500. Importantly, doctors directly under government services are paid well over Rs. 60,000 and private practitioners earn twice the amount thus making physicians in MMUs a seriously aggrieved group of professionals.
“Therefore 23 out of 30 doctors left MMUs in the past four months,” said a senior health department official.
The private company that runs the MMUs — Dr. Jain Video On Wheels Ltd. — did not deny most of the allegations. “There were some problems…financial crisis, you may say, in paying salaries,” said the officer in-charge of the companyin Chhattisgarh, C. S. Gaikwad.
“But we have already paid them last week and some are back on the roads,” said Mr. Gaikwad. He said that by Monday all 30 MMUs will be active. Many staff members in both North and South Chhattisgarh however told The Hindu that salaries have “not been updated.”
Mr. Gaikwad also did not deny that most of the vehicles were off the roads during the monsoon, a time when patients need them the most. “But that was not due to ‘non-payment’,” he said.
“Cars were off the road as doctors were not available during this time of the year. They appear for various government services this time of the year,” said Mr. Gaikwad.