RANCHI: The state government on Thursday took a tough stand against protestinghealth workers by announcing termination of contracts of 5,500 auxiliary and general nurse midwives.

In a letter issued to the deputy commissioners and civil surgeons of 24 districts late on Wednesday evening, director of the state health mission Ashish Singhmaar directed that service contracts of the 5,500 agitating health workers be terminated. “Health service is a priority area and the health workers are holding it to ransom frequently. This is not going to happen,” Singhmaar said on Thursday. “The department is fed up with the frequent strikes,” he added.

As many as 4,800 auxiliary nurses and 700 general nurses are on strike from January 15 demanding regularization. They have been demanding rollback of a November 2015 notification about appointing 750 staff ANMs and GNMs through the staff selection commission and pressing for direct recruitment. The state health department had assured the contract employees that they would be given preferences during recruitment.

Singhmaar urged the protesters to call off the strike, which entered its 13th day on Thursday, and invited the latter for discussion. However, before termination of contracts, the ANMs and GNMs will be served showcause notice, the state health mission office said.

The mass termination of ANMs and GNMs will cripple rural healthcare service. The ongoing strike, which entered its 13th day on Thursday, has severely affected institutional delivery, family planning, routine immunization programmes and functioning of health centres.

However, a senior National Health Mission official said the department would recruit from the pool of trained non-employed nurses to fill up the 5,500 posts. The nurses continued with their protests despite the government move. They staged a dharna in front of health minister Ramchandra Chandravanshi‘s Doranda residence on Thursday. Juhi Minj, secretary of the contract employees’ union, said the demonstrations would continue. But “we will also sit for talks with the government on Friday”, she added.