Imphal, May 26: The Manipur government today softened its stand on striking government heathcare staff and invited them to talks a day after its threat of punitive action under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma) evoked stronger defiance.
The home department had issued a notification yesterday declaring the ongoing strike illegal, but health department employees said they would not be browbeaten into calling off the agitation. The 500-odd government hospitals and public health centres across the state have not been offering even emergency services since Wednesday.
The first day of the two-day Assembly session began this morning with the Opposition slamming the government for remaining silent while the state grappled with a healthcare crisis.
Chief minister-in-charge Th. Devendra Singh ' Okram Ibobi Singh is in New Delhi ' said the government was willing to negotiate with the leaders of the agitation, especially on the demand for non-practising allowance to doctors. However, he did not say what the government planned to do to get healthcare services back on track immediately.
The autonomous Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) is the only major hospital that is functioning normally.
Doctors and nurses kept the outpatient departments of all government hospitals shut for two consecutive days before totally suspending services on Wednesday. Government hospitals have since been discharging patients admitted before the strike.
Raising the issue in the House, Nimaichand Luwang of the Manipur People’s Party said RIMS was unable to bear the burden alone.
“The regional institute has not been able to cope with the sudden inflow of patients. While well-off people are able to go to private hospitals, poor patients have been left in the lurch. The situation has gone from bad to worse. The government should chalk out a proper plan to immediately reopen the hospitals,” he said.
Fortunately, there has been no report of any death due to want of treatment. The pulse polio immunisation programme has been stalled by the strike.
Extending support to the demand for payment of non-practising allowance, both the Opposition and Treasury benches demanded that the six-year embargo on the perk ' the step was necessitated by a financial crisis ' be lifted as the health of the state exchequer had improved.
The hospital strike is being co-ordinated by a joint council of the Health Department Employees Association, Manipur Health Service Officers Association and Family Welfare Department Employees Association. Apart from non-practising allowance, the council wants better service conditions and equipment in all government hospitals.