With the enactment of the national flagship health program, the National Health Mission (NHM) (previously NHRM), the Meghalaya health sector has drastically improved. The credit must go to the employees working under it. The employees were sincerely dedicated to giving their best services to the State’s citizens despite many ups and downs. They were known for their hard work even at the cost of their living and have never been known for street barking, placarding, or demanding any rightful demands. For the fact of simplicity, the higher-up seems to have taken advantage of the program and its employees. As a result, in recent years, despite meagre salaries, the employees have also been denied any promising incentive or bonus since 2019. However, employees as usual retain their sheep nature to act cool even in the dire need to revise their salaries following the trend of market inflation.
On the other hand, the only NHM association that meant to fight for the welfare of all the NHM employees was actually fighting for their self-interest and instead successfully divided the employees into two major sections, i.e., the Programme Management Staff (PM Staff) and the Service Delivery Staff (SD Staff). Noticeably, the authority utilises its power to firmly divide the group and very quickly rationalise the salaries of all the PM Staff section in September 2021 and neglect the other section i.e. the SD Staff or the technical staff. It is on this basis of the divide and rule policy and the discriminative policy of the authority the SD Staff started demanding a reasonable cause on their own. After a couple of trials, the Mission Director of NHM promised to rationalise the salaries of all the SD Staff also.
It is quite a story so far. Let me come straight to my opinions concerning the welfare of the NHM employees and the reckless haste of the NHM rationalisation. When the first draft of rationalisation was published, a ray of hope was seen in the staff that the administration had taken some steps towards the betterment of all its employees. But on analysing the draft, it was regrettable that it was done in haste and thoughtless manner just to delay the time gap, knowing that the staff would never be happy with it. Although thousands of opinions were submitted, no substantive change was made even in the second draft which was published on the 31st of May 2022.
Without any detailed study, we can clearly see that the draft rationalisation was discriminative in nature and explicitly adopted the policy of divide and rule. First, when the rationalization was done for the PM staff, no question of RoP was introduced, and rationalisation was done very smoothly and very quickly. But when it comes to SD Staff, the question of RoP was kept in place. Why does this discrimination exist? Second, speaking of the divide and rule policy, the concerned authority divided the equivalent staff, especially the paramedic staff, with salary disparity for the exact nature of work. The question arises, why is this injustice when no term of reference was mentioned during the recruitment process in the first place?
For example, during the past recruitment process, the concerned office was only asked about equivalent qualifications with or without experience. There were no salary disparities among the candidates based on qualifications on selection. As long as it meets the qualification criteria for the post, they will enjoy the same salaries provided the exact nature of work, workload, the extra duty, etc. However, on the draft rationalisation the office of the Mission Director was trying to segregate salaries based on one’s qualification even when the employees performed the exact responsibilities, which eventually looks very illogical and funny that no state government in India ever differentiate on that basis. Moreover, this faulty procedure will have a repercussion effect and long-term impact on future recruitment processes.
Moreover, the draft rationalisation also disappointed us that no mention of seniority, procedure of promotion if any, etc. In fact, it punishes the equivalent staff with more seniority who would receive much lower remuneration than those with higher qualifications joining the same position at a later date. This is nothing but an act of in justice, foolishness and discrimination towards the equivalent rank. The Supreme Court had also ruled that an employee engaged in the same work cannot be paid less than another who performs the same duties and responsibilities and certainly not in a welfare state. It further elaborates that besides being demeaning, such an action strikes at the very foundation of human dignity. Any act of paying lower wages compared to others similarly situated constitutes an act of exploitative enslavement, emerging out of a domineering position. Undoubtedly, the action is oppressive, suppressive, and coercive, as it compels involuntary subjugation.
Additionally, the draft rationalisation offered meagre wages for paramedic staff which directly affected living standards considering the fluctuating market inflation rate. Compared with the regular staff and the NHM contractual staff, there is a massive disparity between the basic pay for the same profession. This distinction is also a clear violation of a fundamental right guaranteed to have equal pay for equal work. Therefore, the authority must have a close look into these differences. The paramedical staff of NHM are committed and obliged with their job responsibilities, and it is expected and justifiable to have decent pay.
Overall, the second draft is open for views and suggestions. I once again would like to stress the decent standard of living which is actually part of the basic fundamental right to life. If the remuneration is way below average, how would a person and his family live with dignity considering the inflation rate with time? Moreover, wages should be firmly based on the exact nature of work and responsibilities regardless of qualifications. For example, if wages are based on qualification, then will Ph.D. holders working as peon earn more than the 8th or 10th passed employees working for the same post?
Discrimination based on one’s qualification for the same position and job responsibilities is the highest crime the authorities would have ever committed. Also, if the authorities are serious about rationalisation, stop the divide and rule on the categories. Nevertheless, listen to the views of others and appoint an expert committee if needed to look into this matter. Allegations of favouritism and nepotism are doing the rounds at the concerned office and hence will somehow prove to be true if the concerned office failed to fully rationalise the staff in accordance with the regular standard. Perhaps, if the concerned office failed to do so, we would be expecting civil unrest in the days to come.