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Odisha govt bends, nurses refuse to bow

Bhubaneswar/Cuttack, July 23: The Odisha government today decided to regularise the services of contractual nurses who have served for six years without any interruption, a decision believed to be taken to resolve the deadlock arising out of their continuous ceasework for the last nine days.

However, the agitating contractual nurses rejected the government decision. “The government is misleading us. While thousands of regular nurse posts have been lying vacant, the government is picking up only a handful of contractual nurses instead of regularising the services of all of them,” said Gangadhar Panigrahi, president of All Odisha Contractual Nurses’ Association.

He also said the association would intensify the agitation if the government did not regularise the services of all eligible contractual nurses. “The government will be responsible for the law and order situation arising out of such an eventuality,” he said.

On the other hand, Orissa High Court today asked the state government to explain why the Essential Services Maintenance Act had not been imposed on the contractual nurses who had been on strike for the past nine days.

The court expressed surprise that the government had not taken any disciplinary action against the agitating nurses even as healthcare services had deteriorated in all government hospitals because of their ceasework.

The division bench of Chief Justice V. Gopala Gowda and Justice S.K. Mishra issued notices to the Odisha government while hearing a PIL filed by a Cuttack-based organisation seeking declaration of the ceasework agitation as “illegal”.

Over 1,500 contractual nurses working in three government-run medical colleges and hospitals have launched the ceasework from July 15 demanding regularisation of their jobs and salary hike.

Health minister Prasanna Acharya said services of those contractual nurses, who had worked continuously for six years, would be regularised. “A proposal to this effect has been approved by the chief minister and concurred by the finance minister,” he said.

The process of regularisation of services would be completed within 10 days, said Acharya, adding that if required, new posts would be created for regularisation of contractual nurses.

According to health department sources, 1,541 contractual nurses are working in the three government-run medical colleges of Odisha. Of them, nurses having six years’ experience will be eligible for regularisation of services. Contractual nurses appointed under the National Rural Health Mission and the Odisha State AIDS Cell, however, will not be come under the purview of regularisation.

On the demand for revision of pay, the health minister said the matter was pending with the Odisha government’s pay anomaly committee. “Our department has requested the committee to expedite the matter,” he said.

Their demand for dress and washing allowance was also under consideration, said Acharya, while appealing the contractual nurses to call off their agitation.