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50 paise to sew up corpse in morgue

New Delhi, May 18: Sixty-five-year-old Mama Raj sews up corpses every day, like his father did for a living. The Gurgaon Civil Hospital won’t let him go because no one will do his work. And the state won’t pay him more than 50 paise for each gut-wrenching job.

As a mortuary assistant, Mama Raj gets exactly what his father got. “When my father worked here as part of the mortuary staff, he got 50 paise for each body. Today, I get the same,” he said.

When he leaves the hospital every day, Mama Raj takes home around Rs 3 for the six bodies he cleans up on an average after post-mortems. And with that, a stench of blood that never leaves his clothes.

The Class IV employee does not ask for much from the government. “I will be happy if they pay me Rs 5 for each body. I get Rs 1,500 as salary. How can I survive on this?” he asked.

Mama Raj’s condition is no exception.

In most states, the allowance given to mortuary assistants, who also double as sweepers, the allowance hasn’t changed for decades. This, apart from the nature of the job, has led to a shortage of hands to do their job in government hospitals. The crunch also affects investigation as post-mortem work keeps getting stalled.

The Medico-Legal Association of Maharashtra took up the case of mortuary staff some time back, demanding a remuneration of Rs 115 from the state government for each post-mortem. Of the total amount, Rs 75 would be paid to the medical officer, Rs 20 to the mortuary assistant, Rs 15 to the technical staff and Rs 5 to the stenographer.

But this is not a law yet.

In Kerala, Goa, Manipur and Orissa, Rs 100 is paid to the entire team for each post-mortem. In Madhya Pradesh, the remuneration is Rs 30 for the team.

In the civil hospital in Ambala, Haryana, lower-ranked staff get Re 1, the pharmacist gets Rs 2 and the government doctor Rs 4 for each case.

S.S. Dayal, the chief medical officer in the Gurgaon Civil Hospital, admitted that the payment was pathetic.

“The problem is because of the home ministry’s lack of interest in them. More and more hospitals are suffering because of this. Employees here are paid Rs 4, which is shared by six persons,” he said.

From this payment, Mama Raj gets his 50 paise.

“We have sent an application to the ministry and we are waiting for the reply,” Dayal said. “No youngster wants to join the mortuary department, so we have suffered. The health hazards involved in this job add to this,” Dayal said.

At the Aruna Asaf Ali Hospital in the capital, working in the mortuary has indeed become a health hazard.

About 2,000 post-mortems are done every year in the mortuary at this Delhi government-run hospital.

But workers in the morgue handle the corpses without any of the basic protection required. According to rules, they should get protective kits like mouth masks, gloves, sterilised uniforms, infection control suits at the time of conducting a post-mortem, but there is none, said one worker.

One of Mama Raj’s colleagues, who also works as a sweeper, said: “People who haven’t entered a morgue would never know how difficult the job is, forget the mental trauma we go through everyday. What do they expect us to do with the amount that they are paying us? What can we buy with 50 paise these days?”

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