Kohima: Public health in Nagaland is heading towards a potential crisis. As a protest against the state government’s inaction regarding the superannuation age of the medical doctors, the Nagaland In-Service Doctors Association (NIDA), has reiterated its decision to go ahead with the proposed 3-day casual leave from April 18. But worse, they have threatened to cease work indefinitely if the state government fails to respond to its demands by April 17.
The decision came even as Nagaland Chief Secretary on Thursday said the doctors will get no casual leave between April 18 and 21. The Chief Secretary stated that the proposed casual leave is in violation of the Nagaland Government Servants Conduct Rules 1968 and Nagaland Essential Services (Maintenance) Act 1978 and will invite penal action against erring employees.
While the government may initiate its course of action, the NIDA is convinced that its protest against the government is a “legitimate” demand.
What are NIDA’s demands?
PM Narendra Modi, in a rally in May 2016, had announced that government doctors’ retirement age would be enhanced to 65 years due to the acute shortage of medical doctors. To retain the services of experienced doctors, the NIDA came into existence NIDA president Dr E Phyantsuthung said.
Addressing a press conference in Kohima on Thursday, the doctor said that following Modi’s announcement the first memorandum was submitted to the government in August 2016. After this a cabinet sub-committee was formed but the report was never submitted. He informed that in 2018 and 2019 the issue was left untouched due to political upheaval in the state and other reasons.
Later on October 27, 2020, a memorandum was submitted where its core demand was to raise the retirement age to 62 years for administrative posts and 65 years for clinical posts without any other criteria. This was followed by a memorandum in January 2021, after which a series of consultations at various levels.
After the NIDA threatened to escalate its protest amid the COVID-19 pandemic the Chief Secretary on April 17 last year made a written offer that the matter would be resolved within a period not exceeding one year.
With the deadline almost ticking and with no positive response from the state government, NIDA threatened a mass casual leave from March 7-9, but was called off as the health minister assured to address the matter at the earliest. On April 9, the NIDA also met Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, who informed them that the government would decide on the cabinet sub-committee to submit its report.
Dr E Phyantsuthung said a consultative meeting with the cabinet sub-committee and the stakeholders was also held on Wednesday, but the meeting was inconclusive.
Despite the Chief Secretary’s request to extend the one-year period by another three months, the proposal was rejected by NIDA. Vice president Dr Leomnyie said that the NIDA has waited for years and has no time to wait now.
He said that the doctors are left with no option but to intensify the protests if the government fails to respond.
Is it mandated for Nagaland to raise the doctors’ retirement age?
So far, the Centre has not issued any standing order to the state to raise the retirement age for medical doctors so it is not mandatory for Nagaland, the doctors said.
However, following the announcement about 25 states in India, including the Northeast states like Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, where Nagas are inhabited, have implemented the rule.
According to NIDA, the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) has been opposing the implementation of NIDA’s demand. The doctors told journalists that the state government is “using” the NSF as an excuse not to pay heed to their demands. “The government say that NSF is the obstacle but the issue is within the government,” one of the doctors said.
The doctors said that there is no question of unemployment for medical doctors in the state as there are about 548 vacancies available across the state at present.
On Wednesday, the Angami Students’ Union (ASU) said that it would not cooperate with the present NSF team due to its “biased” stand on the issue.
The ASU had said that the medical doctors’ age superannuation is unique as compared to other service sectors as it was announced by the PM in 2016 followed by the cabinet approval on September 27, 2017, and the amendment of the Fundamental Rules (Second Amendment) on August 11, 2018.
The ASU opposed the NSF after the apex student body had notified that it has resolved to maintain the status quo till a comprehensive review of the existing superannuation policy governing the state government employees is carried out.
NIDA also questioned why the NSF is maintaining double standards by opposing the implementation in Nagaland and not in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh where Naga doctors, along with other doctors are also benefitting.
Referring to the Confederation of All Nagaland State Services Employees’ Association (CANSSEA), the doctors said that other service organizations cannot demand the same by citing precedence as the NIDA’s demands are in line with the PM’s announcement for medical doctors.
Although the NIDA is making its demands based on the premier’s announcement, they said that the attention of the prime minister will be sought through the governor of Nagaland if the state government fails to address the issue. Additionally, as it is a state subject, the doctors said that it is yet to write to the PM’s office.
What is the state government’s response?
On Thursday, Nagaland Chief Secretary J Alam said that extensive deliberations have been held by the Government with NIDA and other stakeholders and that the matter has also been considered by the Government at the highest level.
Because of a lack of consensus on either of the alternative options amongst NIDA and other stakeholders, the CS said that further deliberations have been directed to be held for which a Committee under his chairmanship is holding the deliberations.
“Any resort to illegal means of agitation shall be viewed seriously and besides deduction of salary on the principle of ‘No work, no pay,’ participants shall also be liable to disciplinary action for grave violation of Conduct Rules. In addition, the participants in the strike/agitation would also be liable for appropriate action under provisions of the law,” the CS said.
Further, the government directed the Deputy Commissioners of all districts to ensure that the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), Medical Superintendents (MS) and their subordinate officers follow the directions and in case of any violation, submit reports on the matter to the Government through the Commissioner for further action.
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