The Centre has blamed the state government for the plight of ESI doctors in the city and districts.
Replying to inquiries made by the city branch of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the Union labour ministry has made it clear that the Centre has already enhanced the capitation fees of ESI doctors from Rs 60 per family per year to Rs 120 several months ago. “We had requested the government of West Bengal to implement it, too,” wrote A.K. Khokar, deputy medical commissioner, ESI Corporation, New Delhi.
“In fact, the Centre had also released Rs 687.5 lakh for ESI doctors and hospitals way back in July 2001, but the state government has mysteriously remained silent on the issue,” alleged IMA city branch secretary R.D. Dubey. “This letter clarifies everything. We will take up the issue with the government again and ask where it has diverted the funds,” Dubey added. The labour ministry, it was learnt, has already asked the state government for an explanation on the status of the ESI funds.
Friday’s meeting between the government and IMA representatives failed to break the deadlock, with the government expressing its inability to release the salaries due to doctors from last July. “We were told that the government was facing a severe funds crisis and it would take some more time before the process of releasing funds could begin. The government was also silent on hiking the capitation fees to Rs 120. We have, however, made our intentions clear of carrying on the battle for the doctors,” said IMA state branch president S. Ganguly.
High-ranking officials of the state labour and health departments have, however, requested Ganguly to defer the proposed demonstrations and hungerstrike from March 11 in the city. “The meeting turned out as we had expected, with no positives emerging from it. The government has not left us with any choice but to proceed with our plans,” Ganguly added.
For the past few months, physicians of all hues have rallied behind the ESI doctors. Former Union minister of state for labour Ashok Pradhan, who has now been shifted to HRD, also told a public meeting in the city a few weeks ago that “it was a mystery why the ESI doctors were not paid on time, despite the fact that funds were being regularly released by the Centre.”
During Friday’s meeting, the IMA delegates also raised the issues of inferior quality and inadequate supply of life-saving drugs at ESI hospitals. However, the IMA representatives were told that the government had no plans at the moment of introducing new drugs or switching over to better-known manufacturers.