New Delhi: Nurses at the Kasturba Hospital in Delhi held a two-hour protest Tuesday outside the facility’s OPD (out-patient department) over non-payment of salaries for the past three months.
The facility, run by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (North MCD), is a 450-bed maternity and child specialty hospital that is located near the Jama Masjid.
B.L. Sharma, president of the nurses’ union, told ThePrint all 138 nurses employed at the hospital were on strike. They were last paid salaries in May. Sharma also said the nurses had written to the North MCD commissioner’s office last Tuesday and warned of an agitation if salaries were not disbursed.
Their letter, a copy of which is with ThePrint, read: “In the interest of patients we have worked silently with complete devotion till date. It is very difficult to fulfil our daily needs without salary. We have our financial difficulties and obligations and the situation has now become intolerable.”
ThePrint reached the hospital’s medical superintendent, Amita Saxena, who refused to comment.
North MCD Mayor Jai Prakash, however, said the Delhi government did not release sufficient funds.
Sunita Mehendru, in-charge of the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), who has been working at the facility for over 11 years, said, “I have seven family members at home to take care of, including my 85-year-old mother-in-law…We are called the backbone of society but then the government doesn’t even pay us. They have slogans like ‘beti bachao beti padhao’, ‘beti sadak par ao’. They are making fun of us.”
A senior official at the hospital, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that other staff members who haven’t been paid salaries also plan to join the agitation from 21 September.
Doctors at the Kasturba Hospital had in June threatened to resign en masse if their pending salaries were not paid. Following this, the Delhi High Court had directed the release of pending salaries in all MCD-run hospitals.
This included salaries for 1,000 senior doctors, 500 resident doctors and 1,500 nursing staff employed in medical facilities managed by the North MCD.
AAP-BJP blame game
North MCD Mayor Prakash said the corporation was yet to receive adequate funds from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-ruled Delhi government.
“The government is not helping us as much as it can during this pandemic. Of the Rs 1,600 crore it was supposed to give the municipal corporation, only Rs 400 crore has been disbursed,” he said.
Chhail Bihari Goswami, chairman of North MCD’s Standing Committee, also said the Delhi government was liable to pay Rs 1,054 crore for the last two quarters. “Without this, how can we disburse salaries to anyone across MCD?”
According to an official of the Urban Development of Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD), the Delhi government had given North MCD the first instalment of funds. “The second instalment should be released by this week if not next,” added the official who asked not to be named.
House Leader of the North MCD and BJP Councillor Yogesh Kumar Verma said AAP was trying to malign the “reputation of BJP and MCD”.
“The nurses are facing issues because not only are our revenues facing cash crunch in this pandemic. Delhi government has not given us funds up to the second quarter of this year which amounts to Rs 968 crore,” Verma told ThePrint.
The AAP, meanwhile, blamed the BJP, which is the majority party in the municipal corporation and hence runs its operations.
AAP MLA Somnath Bharti said, “It has become a regular feature in BJP-ruled MCD to shift blame to Delhi government. They clearly can’t govern MCD. Just look, their councillors are getting richer by the day.”
AAP’s MCD in-charge Durgesh Pathak, in a tweet Monday, said his party fully supported the strike by MCD employees.
आम आदमी पार्टी MCD के कर्मचारियों के धरने को पूरी तरह से समर्थन करती है और मांग करती है कि BJP जल्द से जल्द इनका वेतन दे। https://t.co/LZcD0pmaiQ
— Durgesh Pathak (@ipathak25) September 14, 2020
Nurses raise Anurag Thakur’s controversial slogan
During the protest, the nurses also raised slogans of “goli maaro saalon ko“, that was raised by Union Minister Anurag Thakur ahead of the northeast Delhi riots in February.
When asked who they were referring to, 56-year-old Manju Lata, general secretary of the nurses’ union, said, “It’s the politicians, be it from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), BJP or the civic body, who are playing a political blame game.”
She added, “When we asked the Delhi government, they said funds for our salaries have been sent to the civic body. When we asked the civic body, they said they haven’t received it. By not paying us, they are only making patients suffer.”
Daljeet Kaur, 53, who has been working at the hospital for seven years, said she was finding it difficult to cover her family’s basic needs without any salary. She also said that 10-15 nurses in the hospital have contracted Covid-19 and two were under home quarantine.
During the protest, there was crowding outside the out-patient department, in violation of social distancing norms. Some were also seen sitting on the ground due to lack of space.