ASHA workers in Chhattisgarh’s Korea district complain that many of them have not been paid the COVID19 incentives they were promised by the government, and what is worse, they allege, those who got the incentives were being made to return it. Officials have denied such allegations. Meanwhile, mitanins have warned of an indefinite strike if their grievances were not addressed.
Mitanins in Korea district, Chhattisgarh. Photo: Adivasi Adhikar Samiti.
Three days ago, on November 10, about 400 mitanins went on strike in Korea district, protesting non-payment of incentives that were promised to them for their work during the COVID19 pandemic. Mitanins, which means female friend in local dialect, are the ASHA workers in Chhattisgarh. These frontline health workers complained that the Rs 1,000 a month incentive they were assured by the government, had not been paid regularly to them.
“Last year, mitanins were given incentives for three or five months in some districts. But this year, not a penny for COVID work has been given to them,” Chandrakant, member, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Chhattisgarh, a non-profit working in public health, told Gaon Connection.
Neelima Kujur (name changed), a mitanin of Lalpur village, Manendragarh block in Korea, told Gaon Connection: “The government was to give us COVID19 incentive for last year as well as this year. This year, I was given incentives for April, May, June, July, and August. Last year, I got incentives for only two months March and April. Some of us have received incentives for only three months this year. We have demanded money for the work we put in.”
Kujur was amongst the 400 mitanins from Korea who staged a four-hour long protest raising slogans in front of the block hospital at Manendragarh, about 285 kilometres from the state capital Raipur, hoping their voices would be heard.
“Mitanins in other blocks of Korea district have also not received incentives,” said Kujur, who has been a mitanin for the past eight years and earns about Rs 5,000 a month. Korea district is made up of 286 gram panchayats in Baikunthpur, Sonhat, Bharatpur, Manendragarh, Khadgawan blocks. There are nearly 65,520 mitanins in 28 districts of Chhattisgarh.
Gaon Connection contacted District Magistrate Shyam Dhwade over the allegations made against the non-payment of COVID19 incentives this year, and the official said: “We are making regular payments [COVID19 incentives] to the workers. Recently, some workers came here. We directed CMHO [Chief Medical and Health Officer] to continue the payments.”
The district magistrate went on to inform that they had given full incentives this year also. “Now, the incentives are being given through the block medical officer,” he said.
The Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs), frontline health workers’ force of about a million women, are the backbone of the severely strained rural healthcare system in the country. During the first and the second wave of the pandemic when the citizens were locked inside their homes, it was the ASHA workers who stepped out of the safety of their homes and catered to the needs of those who fell ill in the rural areas.
During the pandemic, ASHA workers were involved in several public health activities, including sensitising communities through home visits, community surveillance, contact tracing, monitoring home quarantine, facilitating access to diagnostic tests, treatment and COVID19 vaccinations. This, besides ensuring and enabling the delivery of non-COVID19 essential health services for all age groups in rural areas.
It was for this tremendous service that the central and state governments had promised them an additional incentive of Rs 1,000 per month.
In a letter dated March 27, 2020, Vandana Gurnani, additional secretary and mission director National Health Mission (NHM), directed mission directors of all states and Union Territories to provide additional incentives for ASHAs and ASHA facilitators for three months from April to June, 2020.
Later, this period was amended to January 2020 to April 2020. In an order dated April 20 last year, it was clarified that under the India COVID19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Package, these additional incentives were to be paid to ASHAs for COVID19 related work, from the period of their engagement in this work between January 1 to June 20, last year.
In a letter dated July 13, 2020, Vikas Sheel, joint secretary, National Health Mission, directed all states and UTs to continue to provide incentives to ASHAs engaged especially for COVID19 related activities.
This year, these additional incentives for ASHA workers were resumed from April 2021 to September 2021.
An order dated 4 May 2021 issued by the National Health Mission, said: “… additional COVID related incentive of Rs 1,000 per month to ASHAs and Rs 500 per month to ASHA facilitators may continue to be paid to ASHAs and ASHA facilitators, where they are involved in COVID related tasks from April 2021 till September 2021.”
“The MoHFW orders in a sense stipulate that COVID19 incentives of Rs 1000 should be given to ASHAs for all months of the pandemic. However, Chhattisgarh has given Covid-19 incentives to most mitanins (ASHAs) only for three months in 2020 (April, May, June). In 2021, there is a NHM Chhattisgarh order to give incentives from April to September 2021 to Mitanins (Rs 1000 per month) and mitanin facilitators (Rs 500 per month),” Raipur-based Sulakshana Nandi, national co-convener of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, told Gaon Connection.
“As it has been reported, some blocks such as Narharpur (Kanker district), Pandariya (Kabirdham district), Bemetara, Manendragarh (Koriya district) have given for a few months but even this amount is being taken back from ASHAs now,” she added.
The National Health Mission, Chhattisgarh, confirmed the non-payment of COVID19 incentives to Gaon Connection. “We are not giving payments to mitanins right now. We gave it last year for April, May and June. We are yet to receive approval for the budget from Delhi (central government). This is the reason we have not given incentives this year,” an NHM official told Gaon Connection.
As if the non-payment of incentives wasn’t bad enough, the government officials are forcing these health workers to give back the incentives given for a few months, alleged the mitanin and other public health activists.
“The government is asking us to give back the incentive we were paid for five months. We have demanded the release of our payments and not recovery of money given to us,” said an exasperated Kujur.
However, the district collector denied such allegations. “I have no information on this. Aise kaise wapas le lenge? (How can we take incentives like this?) We will give whatever we receive in their bank accounts,” said Dhawde, assuring to conduct an investigation in this regard.
These frontline health workers feel let down by the authorities. “On Wednesdays and Thursdays we visited every household even during the lockdown. Nobody went near those who tested positive. And we were expected to paste posters (stating the COVID19 status) outside their homes,” complained the mitanin, who also tested positive for coronavirus last year in July while on duty.
“There is no timetable for us. We have to report to work at any time of the day. We have worked in danger. Officials sat in their homes safely. Itna karne ke baad bhi yeh sab hota hai to dukh hota hai. (It is sad that in spite of all the work we put in, this happens). There are days we feel like giving up our jobs,” she added.
“We will go on an indefinite strike if our demands are not met,” the mitanin warned.
The name of the mitanin has not been disclosed to safeguard her identity.