Docs' strike: Same old issues
The more things change the more they remain the same. Since doctors began striking in the seventies, their demands have remained constant: more money, better accommodation, better work conditions.india Updated: Mar 07, 2006 04:42 IST
The more things change the more they remain the same. Since doctors began striking in the seventies, their demands have remained constant: more money, better accommodation, better work conditions.
Once every 4-5 years, things reach breaking point, and a strike begins. There’s chaos for 15-20 days, which ends with pious assurances and big promises.
Arun Bal, who was at the forefront of the first strike in the seventies, says, “The usual pattern is that the strike goes on for 2-3 weeks and is then withdrawn under pressure. The government does little to prevent their recurrence, and holds no meaningful discussions with the agitators.”
At the heart of almost every strike has been the demand for parity with conditions prevalent elsewhere in the country. Doctors in Delhi are paid stipends between Rs 16,000 and 21,000 — in Mumbai, they get half that. “It’s unfair,” says MARD joint secretary Bharat Jagiasi. Government after government has promised central parity, panels like the Sapatnekar committee have been set up, but nothing has changed.
A recent new demand has been one for security: armed guards in every ward of public hospitals. The reason has been increasing instances of assaults on doctors by harried patients. Mumbai’s population has doubled over the last 15 years, but the budget for public health shrunk consistently. There’s been no move to improve infrastructure and doctor-patient ratios.
In 2001, doctors protested a controversial decision to bring medical colleges under a new ‘Maharashtra University of Health Sciences’ that was recognised only in Maharashtra. Eventually, the decision was revoked.
The 1987 strike was triggered by the opening of three private medical colleges. Doctors protested because they believed this would lead to commercialisation of education and provide a backdoor entry to mediocre students — resulting in incompetent doctors. “We withdrew the strike because the government said it would not allow any more private colleges,” says Dr Sanjay Nagral, who was at the forefront of that strike.
“It proved to be eyewash.” As usual.