Salary hike for DGHC workers – Finance dept approached to lift job embargo as indefinite fast enters 2nd day

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, Sept. 15: The government has decided to increase the salaries of the 8,000-odd contractual workers of the DGHC on the second day of their indefinite hunger strike.

At the same time, the state hill affairs department has written to its finance counterpart to lift the embargo on recruitment of Group D employees, a move that had aimed to appease the protesters.

The developments have, however, failed to bring cheers to members of the Janmukti Astai Karmachari Sangatan, an affiliate of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. Around 6,500 members of the JAKS began the hunger strike from yesterday demanding job regularisation.

The hunger strike has also crippled the services offered by the 308-bedded Darjeeling District Hospital as 71 of its workers joined the agitation.

B.L. Meena, the administrator of the DGHC who is co-coordinating with the state government, said: “The chief minister today approved the enhancement of salaries of the contractual workers but the hiked amount will be known only tomorrow.”

Sources said the DGHC has proposed 100 per cent hike in the salaries ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000. The workers’ body had earlier demanded that the hike should make their salaries at par with the state government employees.

Meena said the hill affairs department, which looks after the DGHC, had moved a file to the state finance department requesting it to lift the embargo on recruitment of Group D staff. “There was an embargo on recruitment of Group D and this had delayed the process of regularisation,” Meena added.

However, the government’s assurance seems to have come a “bit too late” as it had agreed to start the job regularisation process within three months of a meeting between JAKS members and additional chief secretary Ardhendu Sen in Calcutta on June 9.

Citing this breach of promise, the JAKS said it would not withdraw the hunger strike unless the regularisation process starts. “We have not heard anything but even if the government has decided to enhance the salaries, it has acted a bit too late,” said Deepak Sharma, spokesperson, JAKS.

Sharma also described the move for lifting the embargo on recruitment merely an eyewash. “The embargo is only for fresh recruitment in Group D category. We have been working in the DGHC for the past 21 years and hence the embargo should not be applicable to us,” he said.

On the problems being faced by the district hospital, Ranajit Ghosh, the superintendent, said: “Supplying water from our hospital tanks is becoming tough as the plumbers have also joined the strike. I did manage to get a private plumber but things are not yet smooth as the new plumber is not aware of the different pipelines.”

A short-staffed hospital has already started cancelling pre-scheduled operations and is only taking care of emergency cases. “Two technicians are looking after the blood bank and they are being forced to work for 24 hours. There are no technicians at the ECG unit and the physician himself is doing the ECG during emergency,” Ghosh said.

With almost one-third of the total hospital workers on strike, the permanent employees are also being stressed out. “For how long can they carry one?” said a doctor.

The hospital has a shortfall of 11 doctors.

Surendra Gupta, the district magistrate of Darjeeling, admitted that there could be problems. “Although we have alerted the hospital and formed medical teams, the sheer number of people sitting on a hunger strike could pose a lot of problems,” he said.

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