Sea of ASHAs descend on Bengaluru

Nearly 20,000 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) from across the State landed in Bengaluru’s Central Business District on Friday wearing pink, demanding a fixed monthly honorarium of ₹12,000 and pending payment of Mother and Child Tracking System (MCTS) incentive.

They launched a massive protest at Freedom Park in the city. Under the banner of Karnataka State Samyukta ASHA Workers’ Association affiliated to the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the ASHAs marched from Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna Railway Station in Majestic to Freedom Park. They plan to indefinitely boycott all services from Saturday in their respective villages.

There are 41,268 ASHAs in the State.

Although the workers initially had planned to stage a day-and-night protest in the city for two days from Friday, they dispersed and returned to their respective villages on Friday as they did not get police permission for the second day.

The protesters claimed that the MCTS incentive has been pending for the last 15 months and each ASHA has to get ₹35,000 at the rate of ₹3,000 a month. Apart from a fixed monthly honorarium, their list of 11 demands included de-linking of ASHA incentives from Reproductive Child Health (RCH) portal or ASHA Soft, the Centre’s online payment system for ASHAs, social security and health insurance.

Health Minister B. Sriramulu assured the health activists that their demands would be looked into and requested them to withdraw the strike. A team of health officials led by Principal Secretary Jawaid Akhtar, Commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pandey and Director Patil Om Prakash R. met the workers at Freedom Park and explained to them that eight of their 11 demands, which were as per statutory norms, had been considered. However, the protesters refused to budge.

D. Nagalakshmi, secretary of Karnataka State Samyukta ASHA Workers’ Association, said the government has been giving them “false promises” for years. “Our MCTS incentive has been pending for 15 months and we are demanding ₹3,000 per month. ASHA Soft, which facilitates the Health Department to capture beneficiary-wise details of services given by ASHAs to the community, and also ensure online payments to their bank accounts, is making life harder for us. The beneficiary-wise details that are uploaded by ANMs is invariably delayed or not done properly due to which most do not get paid on time,” she said. “We need a written assurance from the government that all our demands will be met. We will not withdraw till then.”

However, Mr. Pandey said the ASHAs cannot be given a fixed honorarium as the Centre had put in place a performance-based incentive payment mode across the country. “The allegation that incentive payment had not been done for 15 months is false. The remuneration under State government component of ₹4,000, the NHM component of ₹2,000, and performance-based incentives that range from ₹3,000 to ₹4,500 had been paid to ASHAs up to November 2019 and that for December was under process. They are demanding MCTS incentive of ₹3,000 per month, which is not possible as there is no record of services provided by them on the portal. However, we have paid them incentives at the rate of ₹300 per ASHA per month for seven months and the budget for the remaining six months has been disbursed to the districts for payment,” said a note issued by the Commissioner.

Regarding de-linking of ASHA services from RCH portal, the Commissioner said the portal had been introduced across the country to avoid duplication and ensure timely payment. “It cannot be de-linked as data of nine activities is being fetched from the portal for disbursing ASHA incentives,” he said.

Social security

Social security is provided to ASHAs through enrolment under Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyothi Bhima Yojana (insurance coverage of ₹2 lakh on death), and Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bhima Yojana (insurance coverage up to ₹2 lakh for disability). The annual premium of the schemes is reimbursed by the National Health Mission. That apart, ASHAs are covered under Ayushman Bharath-Arogya Karnataka for health protection.

ASHAs who have served for 10 years and want to retire are given one-time payment of ₹20,000 under NHM. A grievance cell has been constituted at the district and taluk level under the chairmanship of the CEO of zilla panchayat, and executive officer of taluk panchayat, to sort out issues pertaining to ASHAs. They have also been linked to 104 Arogya Sahayavani centre for grievance redressal.

Protesters bring children along

Some ASHAs brought their kids to the protest site, Freedom Park, as they had no means of leaving them behind. They also came prepared with food (rotis and chutney) to last through the day. Although the Karnataka State Samyukta ASHA Workers’ Association had made some arrangement for food and water, not everyone got it. The protesters depended on water stored in open barrels at the venue for their drinking water needs.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 3:38:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/sea-of-ashas-descend-on-bengaluru/article30472950.ece

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