Patna, Jan. 25: Sunita Sharma has a PhD in history. But all that the Bihar government employee has been doing these past 15 years is odd jobs such as handing out registration slips at the outpatient department of the Gopalganj primary health centre.
Except, that is, on days when she has nothing to do other than chat with colleagues.
Afroz Ahmed, a political science postgraduate and LLB, has similar paltry duties at the Siwan additional primary health centre. He finds it an embarrassment and complains he gets no respect from junior staff who haven’t even cleared school.
Sunita and Afroz are two of Bihar’s 500 and odd “health educators”, highly qualified people who have been reduced to running errands at rural health centres because their job profile is yet to be defined 22 years after the first batch was appointed.
They are paid Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 a month, which means the state government spends about Rs 25 crore a year on their salaries while failing to utilise their talents and denying them the “dignity” they crave at the workplace.
Sources said these posts were created in 1992 when Lalu Prasad was chief minister and had launched a recruitment drive for various posts across departments. The health educators’ appointments, made through the Bihar Public Service Commission, continued till 2001.
Although the stated educational qualification was mere graduation, most of the health educators are postgraduates, PhDs, MBAs or law graduates. But since they have no defined role, they receive no promotions and are now denied pay rises too.
In contrast, many of their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi are gazetted officers.
Bihar’s health educators now spend their working days giving out registration slips or distributing medicine among the patients at the primary health centres and additional primary health centres where they are posted.
“Most days, I have no work and spend my time chatting at the office,” Sunita told The Telegraph over the phone.
“I really feel awkward on those days. I’m not at all satisfied with my job. Any sensible person in my place would have the same feeling.”
She sometimes takes the initiative on her own to try and be useful, but knows that it is pointless.
“On some days when I am assigned no duty, I accompany Asha (Accredited Social Health Activists) and ANM (Auxiliary Nurse-Midwife) workers in the field and see whether they are carrying out the immunisation programmes properly. If I find any laxity, I inform the medical officer in charge of my primary health centre,” she said.
“But it’s entirely up to him whether he takes any action.”
Sunita said that two months ago, she was engaged in another department’s work for a while — but for the same sort of piffling jobs.
“I was asked to check the quantity of food grain being given to pregnant women at the anganwadi centres under the social welfare department’s take-home ration programme.”
Afroz, appointed in 2001, said he protested every time he was assigned “a worthless job” but added that few other health educators at his additional primary health centre did so. “Even the Grade III and IV staff don’t give us respect because they are aware of our position,” he said.
Following an RTI query in 2009, the state health department had admitted that the health educators’ role had not been decided yet and that some of them were drawing their salary without doing any work. Government sources said the situation remained the same five years on.
The principal secretary in the state health department, Deepak Kumar, tied himself in knots trying to rationalise the matter.
He first admitted that the health educators’ job profile had not been determined and so they were being assigned various odd jobs.
He then appeared to contradict himself: “As the name of the post suggests, the health educators are supposed to motivate people for the different health programmes.”
Kumar then puzzlingly added: “As the Asha workers (who need to have studied only till Class VIII) are already doing this, we have engaged the health educators in various other kinds of jobs.”
Eventually he fell silent when asked why the health educators were being paid six to seven times the wages of the contractual Asha workers if their job profiles were pretty much the same.
Rekha Singh, a postgraduate who has been a health educator at the Bhagwanpur additional primary health centre in Vaishali since 1999, said she felt “helpless”.
“We health educators are qualified people but the state is not making use of our knowledge and skills,” she said.