ASHA workers losing hope

Around 6,000 women in Delhi have not been paid monthly incentives since April for visiting COVID-19 patients under home isolation

August 29, 2021 12:24 am | Updated 03:16 am IST - New Delhi

ASHA workers conducting door-to-door thermal checks and surveys in a containment zone in Delhi.

ASHA workers conducting door-to-door thermal checks and surveys in a containment zone in Delhi.

When the pandemic hit Delhi, 48-year-old ASHA worker Sushila Devi was scared to go for COVID-19 duty.

Her husband, who works for the Border Security Force, was also not with her as he was posted in Srinagar. “He is doing service for the country over there and I am doing mine here. Initially, I used to be scared, but we have to work, right? We (ASHA workers) have risked our lives and worked during the COVID-19 period, but the government is not paying us. This is wrong,” said Ms. Devi, mother of three.

Like Ms. Devi, around 6,000 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) in the city have not been paid incentives for COVID-19-related work done during the second wave, officials and workers told The Hindu . They have not been paid monthly incentives since April for at least two duties: visiting COVID-19 patients at their houses and carrying out surveys in containment zones.

ASHA workers do not get fixed salaries like government employees and are paid mostly through incentives, which are low in many cases. An ASHA worker gets just ₹100 for distributing tablets to around 200 children at their homes. They also said that their workload has increased since the pandemic.

An ASHA worker is to be paid ₹100 per visit to a COVID-19 patient under home isolation, along with ₹100 per day for refreshment, as per government rules. For surveys done in containment zones, an ASHA worker is to be paid ₹500 for surveying less than 50 houses in a day.

No clarification

“From April, both the incentives are pending. We have not received any clarification from the Health Department,” a district official said. ASHA workers get payment from the district level offices. “These incentives are pending as we have not received money from higher levels. We will pay the ASHA workers when we get the money,” an official of another district said.

Another official from a third district said they have paid incentives up to March and ‘approvals are awaited’ from April.

When contacted, a Delhi government spokesperson did not comment on the issue.

“No one is getting these two incentives. We have told officials about this, but nothing is happening,” said Kavita Yadav, State coordinator of Delhi ASHA Workers’ Association. She said they have written to the Chief Minister about problems being faced by ASHA workers, but there has been no help from the government.

Ms. Devi said her days are hectic due to the pandemic. “There were days when I responded to calls at 10 p.m. and went to give medicines to patients at their house. What more can we do?” she asked.

“When I went for surveys, I used to buy sanitisers, gloves and masks with my own money. The government did not provide it,” she added.

Priya (name changed), 38, another ASHA worker,said she used to be worried about her two children, aged 12 and 16, when she went for COVID-19 duty. “I used to come home around 6 p.m. and went straight to the bathroom to bathe in hot water and then wash my clothes. After that also, I didn’t go near the kids for a while. I was worried for them,” she said, adding: “I used to wear PPE kits and go inside houses and measure temperature and pulse of COVID-19 patients under home isolation and give them tablets. We worked a lot, but we haven’t got paid for it.”

Ms. Priya said she has not got incentives for home visits since April. For surveys done in containment zones, she hasn’t received any money since April 2020, the beginning of the pandemic.

“We have to work out of helplessness. If we complain too much, then they will say that ‘if you don’t want the job, then leave it and go’. So, most of us don’t speak up about it out of fear,” she added.

Meagre incentives

ASHA workers get incentives for different works they do and their monthly pay is an aggregate of points they acquire for such works. But they complain that incentives for many such works are too low.

For instance, National Deworming Day is held biannually and Albendazole, a tablet, is distributed to children from one to 19 years of age. For distributing these tablets in her area, an ASHA worker is given only ₹100. In Delhi, each ASHA worker has to cover an average of 400 houses, as per officials. About 200 houses will have children in this age group, as per workers and officials, and the worker has to distribute a tablet each to them for just ₹100.

“I distributed Albendazole to about 200 children in my area for just ₹100. I am yet to get that money,” Ms. Priya said. Ms. Devi said she distributed tablets to around 400 children in her area for the promised ₹100, which she is yet to get.

When the pandemic hit the country, ASHA workers were roped in for various COVID-related works as routine works dipped.

The Delhi government gave ₹3,000 per month, irrespective of their performance score and work. This was apart from the incentives for individual works. But this has been stopped since March.

Officials say it has been stopped as routine work, from which ASHA workers used to earn incentives before the pandemic, have restarted from March.

They still get a fixed ₹1,000, over and above their incentives, from the Central government every month for COVID-related work.

“The government agreed to give ₹3,000 after we protested in August last year at Jantar Mantar. They also fixed ₹100 and ₹500 after it. Before that there was nothing and we worked for the ₹1,000 the Center was giving us a month. But the Delhi government did not give the ₹3,000 when the novel coronavirus came back this year,” Ms. Yadav said.

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