The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hygiene scare in Howrah
- Hospital & health centre cleaners go on strike

Howrah, Nov. 16: Garbage and biomedical waste started piling up in 11 hospitals and health centres across Howrah as contract workers engaged for cleaning went on a wildcat strike today.

The workers said their contrators had not paid them over the past eight months and they had no other option but to strike work.

Officials fear that if the strike continues, garbage and other waste would pose serious health hazards to patients, visitors and doctors at the hospitals and health centres.

'We have not faced such a situation before. It is true that the workers have not been paid for a long time. We are trying to initiate a dialogue with them to tide over the crisis,' said Shankar Saha, the Howrah chief medical officer of health.

Officials said in 2000, about 250 contract workers were taken in six hospitals and five health centres under the Health System Development Project-II, a World Bank-funded scheme to improve district and rural hospitals. The project ended on March 31 this year.

'There is confusion over where the pay packets for these workers will come from. We are seeking a clarification from the higher authorities,' an official said.

Among the worst affected are TL Jaiswal Memorial Hospital, Liluah, Gabberia Hospital in Uluberia, the subdivisional hospital there, BB Dhar Hospital at Amraguri, Amta, and the Domjur rural hospital.

Saha said workers' representatives had submitted a memorandum on November 14. 'They told me they were virtually without food minus any payment since April. I have already taken up the matter with the health department headquarters in Salt Lake.'

One of the labourers, Birju Singh, said: 'We have not received any money due from the contractors for a long time... It is really tough for us to continue.'

Saha said he would ask the Howrah Municipal Corporation to clear the garbage from the district hospital, the biggest of the 11 affected by the strike. The second biggest facility affected is Uluberia Subdivisional Hospital. The chief medical officer is trying to arrange Rs 60,000 for immediate payment to the workers there.

'It will be some time before the funds for the rest are released,' said Saha.

A doctor at one of the affected hospitals said it used to be very tidy when the project was on. Another shuddered to think what the situation would be if the waste is not cleared in a day or two. 'We feel sorry for the patients.'

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