“Punjab vich asha workeraan ghor nirasha vich han (Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in Punjab are in utter despair).”
This is how president of Punjab ASHA Workers and Facilitator Union president Kirandeep Kaur Panjola sums up the collective anguish of the frontline workers in the state, who have been entrusted with reaching out to each household, summarising details of family members, any symptoms of Covid-19, recording their travel history as well as urging suspected carriers of infection to undergo testing.
Demanding a fixed monthly salary of Rs 4,000 in addition to the incentives, “like neighbouring Haryana”, smart phones for feeding the Covid-19 data online and restoration of the Rs 2,500 per month that was paid to ASHAs till June by the state government, the ASHAs have launched a statewide and month-long agitation that began on Monday.
A number of activists sit on hunger strike from 10 am to 3 pm in health facilities across the state to press for their demands.
According to Kirandeep, there are around 18,000 ASHAs in Punjab and around 900 facilitators who supervise ASHAs. The union is also demanding enhanced monthly emoluments for ASHA supervisors.
On Tuesday, the National Health Mission (NHM), Punjab, director, wrote to civil surgeons across the state to “continue to provide additional incentive of Rs 1,000 per month to ASHAs and Rs 500 per month to ASHA facilitators for undertaking Covid-related work from July month onwards till further orders”.
Union president Kirandeep however said that ASHAs were being given special incentive of Rs 2,500 per month till June for their work during the pandemic.
“ASHAs are frontline workers in the state’s fight against Covid-19. The government has reduced the monthly amount from Rs 2,500 to Rs 1,000. ASHA supervisors should also be paid daily wage allowance,” said Kirandeep, underlining that ASHAs had been going door to door, collecting data about each member of every household in their jurisdiction and motivating the people to go for testing.
Kirandeep said that while performing their duties, there had been instances where ASHAs had to face the wrath of people.
“The daughter of one ASHA worker was hit on the head with a stick and had to be hospitalised after the worker recorded that members of a particular family had Covid symptoms,” said Kirandeep.
“Recently, three of our ASHAs tested positive in Bathinda district. They are at a government isolation centre and complain that facilities there were far from adequate. But the authorities are not allowing them to isolate at home,” she added.
Union general secretary in Bathinda Sukhjit Kaur said, “All three were asymptomatic and despite requesting that they be allowed to isolate at home, they were sent to an isolation centre at the Meritorious School on Bathinda-Badal-Lambi road where they complain of being confined to a room without adequate facilities including food despite their requests that they were willing to isolate at home and had adequate arrangements there.”
Kirandeep said, “An ASHA is like a daughter-in-law in a village. She is a grassroots worker knowing about each family and its members, their travel history etc, which no other health worker can know that easily. Despite having taken up such a challenging task during the pandemic, ASHAs are not given any fixed monthly emoluments. We want that in line with neighbouring Haryana, a fixed monthly salary of Rs 4,000, in addition to incentives, should be fixed for ASHAs in Punjab. If Haryana can do that since 2018, why can’t Punjab?”
Who can be appointed as an ASHA, what is the procedure?
According to Kirandeep, any woman resident of a village, generally a married woman in the village, can be appointed as an ASHA provided she is a matriculate.
Kirandeep said that earlier, the minimum qualification was Class 8 pass. A resolution is moved by the village panchayat after considering the application, which is then forwarded to concerned SMO and subsequently to higher authorities before an appointment is made. One ASHA, Kirandeep said, caters to a population of 1,000.
How much do ASHAs earn?
Kirandeep said that incentives given to ASHA workers were very nominal. For instance, if a woman in a village is pregnant, under the Janani Suraksha Yojna (JSY), from early registration of pregnancy till delivery, an ASHA was paid Rs 600 for each case for following up till delivery. “In case of tracking deliveries which come under non-JSY, an ASHA is paid Rs 300,” Kirandeep added.
“An ASHA earns between Rs 1,000 to 1,500 per month as incentives for various tasks if the population she caters to is not below poverty line. The incentives are higher for catering to population below poverty line where an ASHA can earn between Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000,” said Kirandeep, adding that ASHAs did “daunting tasks like dealing with tuberculosis patients, post natal care etc.”
“ASHAs were promised to be paid Rs 4 per member of family for recording details during household surveys for Covid-19. But in many cases, half of the entries they fed in the app for the purpose did not reflect. Also, out of around 18,000 ASHAs in the state, I believe merely 3,000 have smart phones. The rest had to arrange smart phones from friends and relatives to feed entries. We want the government provide them smart phones,” said Kirandeep.
‘Will look into their demands’
Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said, “ASHAs are engaged on an incentive basis and are paid per case and per household. Their appointment is not on a regular basis, but a contractual one. We will look into their demands.”
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