Caught in Govt-Hospital Tussle, K’taka Docs Unpaid for 16 Months
Over 200 doctors have been protesting every day, demanding arrears. ‘We have no money for rent or food.’ said one.
Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Since February 2019, 133 postgraduates and 97 interns of JJM Medical College in Karnataka’s Davangere have not received their monthly stipends, amounting to nearly Rs 10.6 crore for the last 16 months.
Despite tending to COVID-19 patients in three hospitals, including Chigateri District General Hospital and Women and Child Health Care Centre, where the doctors have been deputed, they are turning up everyday for an indefinite ‘relay strike’.
They blame the state government for failing to pay their stipends, despite putting them to work in government hospitals.
Dr Nidhi, house surgeon at JJM Medical College, said that the government was trying to run a “900-bed hospital with only 32 government paid doctors.”
For over two weeks, doctors and interns have been turning up to protest every day, after finishing their rounds and duties, and quarantining themselves accordingly. If their demands are not, the protesting doctors have threatened to stop working in emergency wards.
“Without our monthly stipend, we do not have the funds to pay for our education loans. We don’t have the funds to pay for the books that we need, to cover our vast course. We don’t have the funds to pay for our monthly rent or even for food. Even at 25 years of age, we are dependent on our parents’ pension, which is embarrassing.”Dr Melanie Pinto, Pathology PG
Doctors claim that, despite being awarded the seat under government quota for being meritorious in the entrance exam, the government is not willing to pay their stipends.
"We are asking, What about the PGs and interns working in these government hospitals? Who is supposed to pay them? Can the government run a 900-bed hospital with just 32 paid doctors? No. So, we are asking only what we deserve,” added Dr Nidhi.
In a huge relief to over 8,000 resident doctors in Karnataka, the state government had, in May, hiked the monthly stipends to be paid to interns and postgraduate doctors.
For interns, the stipend was hiked to Rs 30,000. For PG students of 1-3 years, it was hiked it to Rs 45,000, Rs 50,000 and Rs 55,000 respectively.
Caught Between Management and Government Tussle
Claiming that there was a blame game between the college management and the state government, doctors said that they were caught in the middle.
“In 2019, the Directorate of Medical Education stopped giving us our stipend citing an audit objection and directed us to take our stipends from the ARS account of CGM hospital, which is a government hospital. But the CGM hospital declared that they have no funds to pay us and directed us back to the government. On asking the government about the same, they tell the management to pay,” said Dr Nidhi.
Dr Hita, a Radiology PG, said that despite being troubled by unpaid stipends, the doctors had ensured that the people of the districts do not suffer.
“We have not withdrawn any essential services. Even at such a time, we have not done anything to inconvenience the people of Davangere. COVID patients should not face any trouble. We are working as per our Hippocratic oath,” she said.
Doctors Allege Intimidation
Speaking to the press, Dr Hita added that despite approaching multiple authorities over their continuing issue, they had not received help from anywhere.
She added that the deputy commissioner of Davangere and local authorities had tried to stop them from staging a protest.
The students, meanwhile, have responded to a notice sent to them by the district authorities about legal action that could be initiated against them if they did not call off their protest.
“When we are on-duty, providing emergency services and working as COVID warriors, they cannot cancel our licenses... they cannot threaten us like this. It is their responsibility to take up our cause and go to the government and provide us with a solution,” Dr Hita added.
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa has reportedly instructed medical education minister K Sudhakar to resolve the issue by speaking to the college management.
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