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108 and 102 ambulance staff on strike again as their demands not met despite agreement

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Shimla: Tired of repeated false assurances and increasing exploitation by the GVK-EMRI (Emergency Management and Research Institute) that runs 108 and 102 emergency services in Himachal Pradesh, the staff of these services on Tuesday evening went on another strike after their talks with the Director of the National Health Mission failed.

The union of the employees has made a call for a protest in which workers from the various districts would take out a silent march from the HP Vidhan Sabha to the Secretariat in Chotta Shimla.

Earlier, the employees had gone on a strike in June this year. The Himachal Pradesh government had imposed Esma (Essential Services Maintenance Act) on the striking employees. The service provider had also terminated about 63 employees to create panic among the others striking. However, instead of threatening them, the termination fueled the anger among the employees.

The employees extended their strike up to 10 days before the government intervened and held a meeting with the officials of the GVK-EMRI and representatives of the striking staff in the presence of labour commissioner and Director, National Health Mission.

The GVK-EMRI had accepted all the demands of the employees along with taking back employees suspended or terminated during the strike. The government, as well as the service provider, were completely on back-foot as the strike took a toll on the health services.

The GVK-EMRI had assured the employees that within one month, all of their demands would be met.

However, on August 7, 2018, the employees found out that none of their demand were met. They again received another assurance. Following it, the employees have now again decided to go on a strike and stage a protest.

Though the Department claims it would ensure making up for the shortage of drivers but patients are likely to take a hit in every district where the ambulances would be off the road due to the strike.

The staff had been reaching the government with its grievance time to time, but the government chose to stand by the side of the company every time.

The employees working for the GVK-EMRI for over last five years have not received any increment despite the fact that they are made to work 12-16 hours a day, which is unlawful,

the head of the union Puran Chand told Himachal Watcher.

The company never paid anything for this overtime, he alleged.

There is no standard policy regarding the salary of the staff. While some employees receive Rs. 6,000 to 8,000, others are being paid 12,000 to 15, 000. The company is paying the salary in an arbitrary manner. Newly employed staff is offered more salary than what is being paid to employees who are serving for past five to eight years,

Puran Chand alleged.

The HP Government had entered into a contract with the GVK under ‘Atal Swasthya Seva’ scheme in 2010 under the regime of then Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.

However, the company has turned into a sort of dictator using its powers to threaten and suppress protesting voices of the workers, Puran Chand said.

An FIR has also been registered against a senior Employee’s Provident Fund Organization Officer and a middleman of GVK company for offering and accepting a bribe. The middleman had paid a bribe of Rs. 80,000 to the officer of the EPF office in exchange for reducing EPF liabilities of the company, the striking staff allege.

The ambulances are in poor condition due to lack of regular maintenance. Some of them are not even in the condition of operating properly. However, these ambulances are still passed without actually providing any maintenance, the striking employees allege.

When the staff tried to highlight this issue regarding maintenance, the company deducted salaries of the staff to discourage them,

he further revealed.

The workers alleged that such deterring actions are taken against anyone who tries to express their dissatisfaction with the arbitrary functioning of the service provider.

The staff has been fighting this battle for their rights for a long time now.

The main demands of the striking staff include:

  • Ending arbitrary functioning of the GVK-EMRI
  • Recognition of 108 staff on par with contract/outsourcing employees of various agencies under Health department
  • Payment of salaries as per the provision
  • Eight hours shift in place of current 12 hours
  • Full deposits in provident fund accounts
  • Payment for overtime including those pending since last five years

The staff has received support from various other organizations as well as oppositions of the ruling government. Sanjay Chauhan, former Mayor of Shimla and a leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist) has also extended a support to the striking employees.

The agreement between company and workers for 12 hours duty is totally illegal and against labour laws. This has been endorsed by the government also. As per law, no worker can be asked to work for more than 8 hours. If the employee work more than 8 hours, he would have to be paid for overtime which is double the wages,

Sanjay said.

These are the basic policies under a neo-liberal regime that outsource services to companies and let workers get exploited and allow companies to extract profit, he added.

We demand that the government should intervene immediately and contract should be scrapped by the government. These workers should be regularised under the Health Department as per the policy of government because most of them have completed 5 years of services,

Sanjay said.

Amid this delay and series of false assurances, the government officials and the service provider might not be affected but the public is suffering due to the strikes. 

Misc News/Press Release

Patwari Recruitment: High Court Dismisses Petition Alleging Irregularities in Holding Exam

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Himachal PRadesh Patwari Recruitment Cleared by High Court

Shimla-While hearing a petition, the State High Court, Himachal Pradesh, on June 3, 2020, cleared the State Government of allegations of irregularities in the recruitment of Patwaris.

More than three lakh candidates had applied for appearing in this examination and about three lakh candidates appeared in it for approximately 1200 vacancies.  As many as 1150 candidates passed the examination but the further process remained pending due to the petition.

On November 17, 2019, a written examination was conducted through various Deputy Commissioners in different districts. Some candidates challenged the recruitment of the Patwaris in the State High Court, alleging irregularities in the recruitment.

State Government filed a detailed reply on this appeal and stated that there was no irregularity. One of the candidates, who had challenged the appeal had not even appeared in the examination, the State Government said.

Jal Shakti Minister Mahender Singh and Education Minister Suresh Bhardwaj said that on January 8, 2020, State High Court asked to further investigate the matter.  CBI filed a detailed investigation report in this regard on May 29, 2020. High Court observed that as per CBI’s report, nothing objectionable was about the conduction of the examination and selection process. The court then dismissed the petition.

“The leaders of the opposition were raising unnecessary hue and cry in this regard, which was completely baseless,”

said Mahender Singh and Suresh Bhardwaj in a joint statement.

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Kinnaur Reports Its First Two Cases, 10 Others Reported from Five Districts  

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Himachal Pradesh COVID-19 cases on June 3, 2020

Shimla– According to the daily COVID-19 bulletin (5:00 PM) released by the Health Department for June 3, 2020, 12 cases were reported from Kangra, Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Shimla, Mandi, and Kinnaur district, taking tally for the Himachal Pradesh to 357.

Kinnaur entered the list of COVID-19 affected districts as it reported its first two cases – a man and his wife who had returned from Delhi. Their 10-year-old son also accompanied the parents during the travel but was tested negative.  They were under institutional quarantine. Now, Lahaul-Spiti is the only district where no case has been reported so far.

Kangra district reported four new cases. While Hamirpur reported two new cases, Bilaspur and Shimla reported one case each. Shimla reported its 10th case as a returnee from Delhi who belongs to Rampur tested positive. He was under institutional quarantine at a centre in Juri.

In Kangra district, the COVID-19 tally has reached 96 with four new cases. One of the persons, a resident of Golwan village in Fatehpur, was said to have no travel history, which has become a matter of worry for the district administration. Another person out of these four, who had returned from Delhi in an Air India flight, also tested positive. The Superintendent of Police, Vimukt Ranjan, has confirmed the report. Further, a girl from the Shahpur area was also tested positive. She had returned from Delhi in a Spice Jet flight. The fourth person had returned from Madhya Pradesh on May 27. He was identified as a resident of Fatehpur.

District-Wise COVID-19 Cases in Himachal Pradesh Till June 3, 2020 (5:00 PM)

Himachal Pradesh First COVID-19 cases in Kinnaur

Mandi also reported two cases in which 23-year-old and 26-year-old residents of Sundernagar testes positive for COVID-19.

In Hamirpur, two persons who had returned from Delhi and Chandigarh were tested positive. Both were under institutional quarantine. With these new cases, the total number has risen to 114 in Hamirpur, of which 74 are active.

In Bilaspur district, a 31-year-old tested positive. The person was identified as a resident of Solan, who was stopped at Bilaspur-Punjab border while he was returning from Delhi in his vehicle and was placed under institutional quarantine at Swarghat.

Further, eight patients – two in Una and six in Kangra district – have recovered. So far, 144 patients have recovered and 204 cases are still active. Result of 1061 samples sent for testing on Wednesday was awaited.  

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‘Quarantine Tourism’ and Opening Hotels in Himachal Bad Idea: Hotel Associations

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Himachal Pradesh Opening hotels and quarantine tourism

Shimla– The Shimla Hotel & Restaurant Association on June 2, 2020, held a video conference with the Secretary and Director of the State Tourism Department, DTDOs, and Presidents of all associations concerning the hospitality industry of Himachal Pradesh.

The conference was held following the State Government’s announcement regarding opening of hotels for people visiting the State for non-tourism purposes from June 8.

The Association termed Chief Minister Jairam Thakur’s plan of “quarantine tourism” in Himachal Pradesh as a bad idea that would put the safety of the people at a risk. It’s pertinent to mention that a couple of weeks ago, the Chief Minister had suggested that to boost the industry, hotels can be opened for people, within and from outside the State, who are quarantined. This idea of the CM had drawn flak from not only the oppositions but also from the people.

“As far as quarantine tourism is concerned, we from the Industry do not feel it would be a good step for tourism in Himachal Pradesh. This could be unsafe for the employees, our properties and most important our citizens in towns and villages,”

said Sanjay Sood, President of Shimla Hotel and Restaurant Association. 

This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the hotel industry-supported Chief Minister’s decision to close borders of Himachal to tourists, which we felt was the right decision as we all were concerned for our employees and citizens of our state, Sood said.

Since cases are on the rise in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Punjab etc. Himachal should not consider opening hotels, at least, till the end of August or September unless a vaccine for the treatment of COVID-19 is available, Sanjay added.  

Now, that most parts of the State are safe and the tourist season – April, May and June- seems to have been lost due to the pandemic, the State should not open its borders for tourism as the cases are going to increase manifold in June and July, he said.

“We should not consider opening tourism in Himachal Pradesh till we have normalcy in domestic and international air traffic and all inter-state borders are opened. We suggest we should try to boost tourism in the State in August or September and start marketing the beautiful state for wellness tourism, adventure tourism, environmental tourism, cultural tourism, health tourism, religious tourism, culinary tourism,”

Sanjay said.

Also Read: Impossible to Pay Salaries & Wages to Staff With Zero Cash Flow, Says Hotel Association, Seeks Relief from CM Jairam Thakur

He said that meanwhile, the hotels would get a time of two to three months to train their staff to deal with guests and at the same time keep themselves safe in these challenging times of a pandemic.  Sanjay suggested that the State Government would need to focus on projecting Himachal as a safe destination and include members of all hotel associations of the State to do so.

The Association gave following suggestions to the State Govt

  1. Advertisements on Netflix and other popular TV channels which are currently popular.
  2. Advertise in theaters like PVR, SRS etc once they open.
  3. Advertise in newspapers and popular magazines concerning domestic and international travels.
  4. The most important step for the State Government should be to take along three to five members of all hotel associations of the State and hold roadshows, exhibitions, dinners with popular travel houses in all metros and cities of India to showcase Himachal as a haven for visitors.
  5. State Government would have to bear all costs including travel and stay of members of the association’s members.
  6. There are bodies like a travel trade fair, both domestic and international, where the State Government needs to coordinate and organise roadshows exhibitions etc.
  7. All fees for exhibitions that take place in various destinations should be waived off for hotels and the Government would have to take care of the expenses.

Earlier, on May 23, a delegation of Himachal’s hotel and tourism industry headed by Vikramaditya Singh, MLA, Shimla (Rural), had met the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, seeking relief for the dying industry in the State due to the lockdown.

Reliefs Sought from the State Government by the Hospitality Industry

The delegation sought-following relief measures for “survival and revival” of tourism in Himachal  :

  1. Financial package is given to all hotels to cover business losses incurred during lockdown period by way of interest-free loans from State co-operative Bank and other state-owned banks, waiver of interest on existing term loans / CC limits availed from various banks and extension of existing term loans and CC limit with no requirements of fresh/additional collaterals.
  2. No electricity and water charges should be taken from hotels which are presently lying closed since lockdown.
  3. All fixed taxes, cess, license fees, govt. rentals should be waived for lockdown period from April 2020 that are being charged by the government of HP.
  4. The government should pay minimum wages to all Hotel employees during the lockdown . There are about 50,000 employees in tourism units of private & govt. Sector. The total amount will be less than 50 crores per month which should be paid by way of direct transfers to all employees of tourism units.
  5. GST should be reduced to 9% for 2 years after the opening of lockdown to encourage the revival of tourism in Himachal. Hotels should be allowed to charge 9% as ‘ COVID – 19 surcharge’ to the bills of visiting customers in room and food charges to make up for the losses in sales during the lockdown.
  6. Completion of Tourism linked infrastructure should be expedited like helipads, National and State highways, link roads etc.
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