‘An unending loop’: How non-payment of salaries is a recurring issue for Kasturba hospital’s doctors

Doctors claim they’ve been paid irregularly for the last seven years, and the North Delhi Municipal Corporation is not honouring its promises.

ByAnna Priyadarshini
‘An unending loop’: How non-payment of salaries is a recurring issue for Kasturba hospital’s doctors
Shambhavi Thakur
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“For the past seven years, we have been getting irregular salaries,” said Sunil Kumar. “Every two or three months, we have to stage a protest such as this, to make our voices heard. And still, our voices have not impacted neither the Delhi government nor the municipality.”

Kumar is the president of the Kasturba hospital’s Resident Doctors’ Association, a group of around 60 junior and senior resident doctors. Since November 23, doctors at the hospital in Delhi’s Daryaganj have been on strike over the non-payment of their salaries. A similar strike is underway at the Hindu Rao hospital.

Both hospitals are run by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, or North MCD, which is governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The RDA’s strike notice, issued on November 22, announced a “pen-down strike” for three hours everyday between 9 am and noon. Additionally, the Municipal Corporation Doctors’ Association announced yesterday that it will go on an “indefinite strike” from November 29. This strike will include all senior doctors at hospitals and health centres under the North MCD. Besides Kasturba hospital, hospitals under this body include Hindu Rao hospital, Girdhari Lal maternity hospital, and Rajan Babu Institute.

According to the doctors, they have not been paid their salaries since October. Additionally, they were scheduled to receive a hike in their dearness allowance from July, but this has not happened. They also have not received arrears in their salaries since 2016, and have been paid “irregularly” ever since.

Junior doctors at Kasturba hospital told Newslaundry they received their salaries for September in November, while senior doctors have not received their salaries for September yet.

Kasturba hospital in Daryaganj.

Kasturba hospital in Daryaganj.

The strike on November 23.

The strike on November 23.

Newslaundry visited the protest site at Kasturba hospital on November 23. Around 40 doctors were gathered outside the out-patient department, with a banner reading “We are on strike”. Some doctors also waved placards that said “If we are essentials, treat us as such” and “Bheekh nai haq chahiye”. Not charity, we want rights.

Those on strike explained that senior doctors were not part of the protest due to “pressure” from hospital authorities.

Dr Shahid Islam, the vice-president of the RDA, told Newslaundry the doctors had staged a similar protest in March after not receiving their salaries for three months. The strike was called off after the North MDC mayor “assured” them that the salaries would be “released soon”. According to Islam, the salaries were finally paid three months later.

“And here we are again, demanding our basic salaries and for the dues and dearness allowance to be paid,” said Islam. “When will it end? Is there a solution? Even if this time they agree to pay us, what is the guarantee that this will not happen again?”

He added that the North MCD had “failed to honour” its agreement with the doctors and so, “we are free to call for a strike of doctors”.

On November 22, the Municipal Corporation Doctors' Association, an association of senior doctors across hospitals, wrote a letter addressed to the central government, the Delhi government, and the North MCD on the issue.

“Our daily allowance was revised in January and July, but it has not been implemented since January,” said the letter, signed by Dr Maruti Sinha, the association’s general secretary. “There are arrears which haven’t been paid to us since 2016. If the North MCD does not have the funds to handle health services, then it should be handed to either the Centre or the Delhi government, but the civic body does not want to pay or hand over responsibility.”

It should be noted that last September, nurses at the hospital had also staged a protest saying their salaries had not been paid since May that year. According to the Indian Express, the Delhi High Court had already intervened and instructed the municipal corporation to pay the salaries.

Blame game

In its budget for 2021, the Delhi government had allocated Rs 9,934 crore to health services – about 14 percent of the total budget. In July, in accordance with a direction from the high court, the government gave Rs 293 crore as advance to the North MCD to pay salaries and pensions.

At the time, urban development minister Satyendar Jain said, “The North MCD always faces issues related to salaries of employees. We hope they release the salaries as soon as possible.”

Yet the delays in salaries continue.

Kasturba’s doctors also told Newslaundry they’re caught in a blame game between the Aam Aadmi Party, which runs the Delhi government, and the BJP, which runs the North MCD.

While the Delhi government accuses the North MCD of “misgovernance and corruption”, the North MCD blames the government for “not allocating pending municipal funds”.

“Both the parties have been blaming each other for lack of funds,” Islam said. “But if we raise the political angle, both sides will blame the association for being linked to the other side. Hence, we do not indulge in it.”

Apart from the non-payment of dues, doctors told Newslaundry the North MCD has also ignored other issues like the maintenance of the hospital buildings.

“For the past seven or eight years, the child clinic ward has been closed,” said a senior doctor at Kasturba hospital on the condition of anonymity. “No one from the municipality has visited to repair it.” The doctor also pointed at the mismatch between beds and patients, stating that at times, four patients are often accommodated in one bed.

Newslaundry reached out to Raja Iqbal Singh, the BJP mayor of the North MCD, for comment. However, multiple phone calls to Singh went unanswered.

Newslaundry also contacted Shaily Jain-Kalantri, the public relations officer of Kasturba hospital, and Girish Deo, the hospital’s administrative officer, but received no response.

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