Chandigarh: Punjab is set for assembly elections, but just months before the polls, the state has been struck by strikes. At least a dozen unions of various kinds, including those of teachers, ASHA workers, anganwadi workers, nurses, and bus employees, are on the streets demanding regularisation of services, employment or better salaries.
The protesters are making a last-ditch effort to put pressure on the Charanjit Singh Channi-headed Congress government which, despite being in “please-all” mode ahead of the polls, is finding it difficult to handle them.
At many places over the past two weeks, lathis and water cannons have been used against protestors, with the police action boomeranging on the government.
The opposition has gone to town with images of injured protesters, accusing the Channi government of apathy and cruelty.
Since protesters stage their dharnas near venues where the chief minister or his ministers are visiting, they are almost always greeted by black flags and loud sloganeering.
Thursday, Channi’s security unit tried to find a “solution” to the problem, but it left his government even more red-faced. The head of the special protection unit ordered that wherever the chief minister is to attend a function or ceremony, the organisers would hire a DJ and play Gurbani Shabad (Sikh religious music) to drown out the sloganeering.
The order, however, was hurriedly withdrawn in the evening after it drew flak not just from opposition leaders but also the Congress’ Sunil Jakhar, who tweeted that it made a mockery of democracy.
Instead, another set of orders was issued, saying that wherever the chief minister attends a function or ceremony, the volume of the loudspeakers at the venue will be reduced so that he can listen properly to the woes of the public.
Issue blowing up
Contractual employees of Punjab Roadways, PUNBUS and PRTC are on an indefinite strike since Tuesday, affecting government bus services at many places. They are demanding that their services be regularised.
Other contractual employees are also on the streets with the same demand. They want the Channi government to notify its decision to regularise 36,000 contractual employees. Their protests at various places have been going on for three weeks now.
Last month, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party convener Arvind Kejriwal made common cause with agitating physical training instructors (PTI) demanding employment at Sohana. The teachers have been protesting from atop a water tank since August. Kejriwal later addressed other qualified teachers, who are demanding jobs outside the office of the Punjab School Education Board in Mohali.
Apart from this, teachers of 184 colleges across the state have been on strike over the past one week as part of the ongoing ‘Total Education Bandh’. They are protesting against the non-implementation of the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission of the University Grants Commission (UGC).
If this wasn’t enough, Monday, during his visit to the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, Channi was greeted with slogans and black flags from protesting computer teachers. These teachers want their services to be merged with the education department.
Police action against protestors
With the protests spiralling, the police has been forced to act on a number of instances.
More than 250 ‘Covid warriors’ (paramedics staff and nurses), who had been hired through outsourcing by the government during the two Covid waves but laid off in October, were forcibly removed after they blocked the Chandigarh-Bathinda National Highway last Friday. They were demanding their jobs back, and had been on a permanent sit-in protest at the Rajindra Hospital in Patiala since 25 October.
Last Saturday, the Jalandhar Police lathicharged candidates who were protesting against the anomalous Punjab Police recruitment process. The candidates had gathered near the PAP (Punjab Armed Police) complex to try and disrupt the next round of recruitments.
The same day, protesting Elementary Teacher Training (ETT)-qualified teachers were lathicharged at Mohali as they tried to move towards the chief minister’s residence in Kharar. The teachers have been protesting for five months now, demanding employment.
ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers struck work for two days last week, demanding an increase in wages in compliance with the Minimum Wages Act.
Last month, protesting anganwadi workers tried to gherao the chief minister’s residence at Kharar. They demanded the return of pre-primary students back to anganwadis from government schools and filling up of vacant posts.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)