Days after announcing that Punjab’s 3.5 lakh-strong government staff would have to undergo screening for drugs, the state government on Thursday decided to exempt women employees from the test.
The state government has about 90,000 women employees. Sources said the decision to exempt them was taken on the ground that the percentage of women addicted to drugs in Punjab was minuscule and because it would not send the right signal if they are asked to undergo a dope test. It has also been decided that employees will be reimbursed the Rs 1,500 they currently pay for the test.
The Indian Express has learnt that in a set of guidelines issued to Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s office has said that those on medication for ailments should also be exempted after they submit their prescriptions from a health expert. There were concerns about false positive tests if the employees were on medication.
The guidelines, which have not yet been made public, came in response to a proposal sent to the CMO earlier by the state’s health department, the executing authority of the mandatory dope test, which had sought clarity on the periodicity of the test, the budget the government could set aside for the screening and the category of employees to be tested.
About the periodicity of the test, the guidelines say that in case of employees required to undergo periodic medical examination (IAS, IPS, IFS and Punjab Police officers and employees), the dope test should be included with the other medical tests.
For other employees, if a need is felt to have an annual dope test, it may be prescribed.
The state’s Personnel Department has been asked to issue the guidelines and the Health Department to lay down Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) within a week, say the guidelines.
Earlier, the Health Department had estimated that the one-time cost of conducting dope test on all 3.5 lakh government employees would be around Rs 16 crore. It had also raised concerns about the logistics of the massive exercise, which would entail mobilising the entire health machinery of the state, including all the district-level government hospitals and their staff.
“Since the screening kit for testing a person for 2 psychotropic substances and 8 narcotics drugs costs between Rs 450 to 550 each, we have also sought clarity on whether the government would charge the employees, reimburse them or provide the test free of cost. If they want to charge the employees, we have suggested we should charge them more than our cost as we would be diverting our manpower and infrastructure for screening,” a health department official said.