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Why ASHA workers in UP’s Budaun were detained for taking pregnant women to private clinic

The ASHAs are accused of accepting gifts from a private nursing home and being part of nexus that has led to a low number of registered births in Budaun district.

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Budaun: Last Sunday, 35 Accredited Social Health Activists, better known as ASHA workers, were detained by the police in Uttar Pradesh’s Budaun, after they were allegedly caught accepting gifts from a private nursing home during a raid.

The Budaun administration claims the ASHA workers were part of a nexus that has contributed to the district’s low number of registered births, allegedly by bringing pregnant women for delivery to Ayesha Nursing Home in the town.

The National Health Mission mandates that ASHAs must encourage expectant mothers to deliver at public healthcare institutions or accredited private ones, and Ayesha Nursing Home is neither. It wasn’t registered on the government’s institutional delivery portal, and hadn’t recorded a single birth since it was established in 2014-15.

District Magistrate Kumar Prashant told ThePrint that he had received tip-offs from locals about ASHA workers taking pregnant women to the nursing home for delivery since April.

“We had been getting calls for a few months from people who lived near the clinic, saying ASHA workers were frequenting the clinic. We had tried to conduct a raid twice before, but the staff would find out and the ASHA workers would flee before we got there. This time we were successful,” said Prashant, who ordered the raid.

“They would give antenatal care in the women’s homes, but at the time of delivery, would take them to the private clinic,” the DM explained.

“We were getting these complaints for a while, and learned that the gift disbursement was happening frequently as an incentive. We had tried to catch them before but were unsuccessful till now,” he added.

The facility, situated on the main road that cuts through Budaun town, was sealed by the authorities on 27 December and now stands abandoned. Its owner, local Samajwadi Party politician Swale Chaudhary, has fled the town, DM Prashant said.

Ayesha Nursing Home in Budaun, which has been sealed by the administration | Photo: ThePrint
Ayesha Nursing Home in Budaun, which has been sealed by the administration | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

The ASHA workers detained by the police and then let go denied ever having colluded with Ayesha Nursing Home, and told ThePrint that they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The FIR in the case also doesn’t mention that ASHA workers brought pregnant women to the clinic for delivery.

Budaun’s chief medical officer as well as the DM, however, told ThePrint that the detained ASHAs would have their employment terminated, though the latter said they haven’t been told about any impending action.


Also read: Surveying 400 houses, meeting Covid cases up close — a day in the life of a Delhi ASHA worker


The FIR

An FIR was lodged against the 35 ASHA workers and the nursing home staff under Section 353 of the Indian Penal Code — using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty. But ASHA workers deny this charge.

According to the FIR, the team conducting the raid was stopped from entering by the nursing home staff. When it managed to enter, it found a group of ASHA workers from various villages had gathered and were accepting gifts, which “they should not have” been doing. The team conducting the raid then confiscated the boxes and sealed the nursing home.

But the FIR makes no mention of the nursing home’s non-compliance with medical norms, nor the ASHAs’ alleged conduct of bringing pregnant women to the clinic for delivery.

In fact, there was some speculation that no pregnant women were found at the nursing home when it was raided. However, DM Prashant clarified that this isn’t true.

Budaun DM Kumar Prashant | Photo: ThePrint
Budaun DM Kumar Prashant | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

“There were pregnant women at the nursing home when it was raided. Their relatives were called, and they were asked if they wanted to be admitted to the government hospital or if they would rather go elsewhere, and they chose to go elsewhere for treatment. The team was not able to record the details of these women as they were preoccupied with the raid and ensuring the ASHA workers didn’t flee,” he said.

The DM added: “Since April this year, we have shut five to six nursing homes that were running illegally or not complying with norms.”


Also read: ASHA workers are hailed as Covid warriors but only 62% have gloves, 25% have no masks


What the ASHAs say

The ASHA workers who were detained Sunday deny any wrongdoing.

Bir Wala, a worker from Malgaon village, told ThePrint: “I was walking to get medicine with my niece and saw a crowd at the clinic, so I was standing around. Suddenly, the police arrived and rounded us all up and took us to the station. I don’t know what was going on inside the clinic, and I’m ready to explain my side of the story.”

ASHA workers Bir Wala (left) and Gangadevi were also among the detainees | Photo: ThePrint
ASHA workers Bir Wala (left) and Gangadevi were also among the detainees | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

Rajeshwari, another detainee, added: “I have worked as an ASHA worker since 2006, and I have never taken anyone to that clinic. I was on my way to file some papers for some land when I saw a gathering outside the clinic. I was standing outside when the police came and rounded all of us inside vehicles. I just did as I was told.”

Mehrunnisa, who was caught with her mother Bano, said the workers were picked up by the police around 11 am from the clinic, and were kept at the police station till about 8 pm.

“We were taken to the police station, where they asked for our Aadhaar cards and names. They didn’t ask us any questions, but they let us go very late at night. We had to make our way back to the villages alone,” Mehrunnisa said.

“We had heard from some other ASHAs that the clinic was delivering free gifts, so we went. Why wouldn’t we? We’re poor. It was some kind of kitchen set. This doesn’t mean we were in cahoots with them,” she insisted.

Speaking about the incentive of Rs 600 offered to ASHA workers per delivery, Mehrunnisa said: “We get around Rs 2,000 per month, sometimes Rs 3,000, but it never goes above that. We do a lot of work for the government — regular surveys; if there’s a midnight delivery we have to rush… We do all this without a college degree, and we get paid peanuts for it.”

Bano, who has been an ASHA worker for over 15 years, has actually continued with her work since being released from the police station.

“Just this morning I took a woman to the hospital and I’ve just come back. I was with her all night; I haven’t slept,” she said.


Also read: Modi govt begins building database of healthcare workers for Covid immunisation drive


 

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