Nurses working at government hospitals across Chhattisgarh called off their strike on Saturday night after getting an ‘assurance’ from the state government. More than 3,000 nurses had resorted to the strike on May 18 under the banner of Chhattisgarh Paricharika Karmachari Kalyan Sangh (CPKKS), raising a series of demands, including pay scale revision and promotions. After several round of negotiations, the protesting nurses were assured that a committee would take a decision within 45 days on the demands.
The six demands are: giving the staff nurses the grade 2 category and seventh pay commission on Rs. 4,600 pay grade, equal pay for equal work, increase in nursing allowance and other incentives, ensuring that nursing quarters are close to the hospital, and bridging the shortfall in nursing staff.
CPKKS pointed out that in other states, staff nurses get the pay grade of Rs. 4,600 while in Chhattisgarh, they get the pay grade of Rs 2,800. CPKKS has been raising these demands for the past three years. When the state government did not fulfil the promises it made in this regard, the nurses went on strike.
In response, the BJP government on May 29 invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1979 (ESMA), terming the strike unconstitutional, and asked the nurses to resume work. However, the nurses refused to back down even as talks between the Directorate of Health Services and the union failed.
On June 1, as many as 607 nurses were arrested as they had continued the strike after the invocation of ESMA. 227 of the arrested nurses, including some who were pregnant, were lodged in the Raipur jail. CPKKS termed this an attempt by the government to suppress the peaceful protest using the police.
“Some of the nurses who were arrested today are pregnant and yet, they have not been released,” said a CPKKS member while talking to media.
“They were arrested in the morning but no food was provided to them till the evening. In the jail, 10 nurses went on a hunger strike. One of the nurses fainted. After being released, the nurses complained that they were harassed inside the jail and the women were not allowed to feed their children. The nurses protesting outside continued to do so despite the rain. In the jail, there was no arrangement for toilets,” JSA Chhattisgarh noted, pointing out the rights violations which had occurred.
“The nurses were even told to drink the water that was being used in the toilets. Moreover, they reported that the jail guards misbehaved,” the JSA briefing added.
Meanwhile, the DHS Ranu Sahu said that “the nurses would be released if they agree to come back on work”.
However, the CPKKS said that they had been mentally harassed and forced to call off the strike. They added that they were under a lot of political pressure due to which they called off their strike despite none of their demands being met.