Forty five-year-old Kusuma Kumari is an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) who works in Polavaram, an interior tribal region of West Godavari district. Her monthly salary of Rs 3,000 has not even been enough for survival, she says. “We have staged several protests in Eluru and Vijayawada demanding an increase in wages. The Andhra government’s new decision acknowledges our problems,” Kusuma says.
Kusuma is referring to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy’s announcement to increase the salaries of ASHAs in the state to Rs 10,000 per month. The move has been welcomed by health workers in Andhra – however, several ASHAs say there needs to be more clarity on the hike. While Jagan has announced that the pay will increase to Rs 10,000 per month, does this include allowances that ASHAs get for specific works, or will that be additional?
ASHAs are health workers who ensure the government’s health schemes are implemented in villages across the country. In many states, these workers are not paid regular salaries and are only given incentives for specific functions they perform – like immunisation. In Andhra Pradesh, these workers have been getting a fixed pay of Rs 3,000 per month, and incentives of upto Rs 2,000 every month. But even this money is delayed.
Now, with the Andhra CM announcing a hike in pay, ASHAs say that while the move is welcome, the government must ensure that the allowances or incentives are separate from the salary.
Ganga Bhavani is an ASHA who works in Gotala Sub PHC in Polavaram – one of the most interior tribal villages in the region that often makes the news for healthcare issues. Bhavani has been working in the field for 12 years, and says she has to depend on private transport even in times of emergency – like shifting patients to Polavaram or Kovvuru PHCs for better treatment. “The hike is obvious a boon for us – we were struggling to get even pending salaries. But the government should not include allowances in this Rs 10,000,” she says.
Bhavani who hopes that there are better days ahead for ASHAs like her says, "We are happy that new CM has acknowledged our problem in just a week after coming into power."
Across the state, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) – a CPI(M) backed trade union – has organised several protests to support ASHAs. And it is these activists’ continuous representations to Jagan during his Padayatra prior to elections that helped put their cause on the new CM’s priority list, the health workers believe. The government’s decision will affect 40,000 workers in the state.
CITU leader and ASHA Workers’ Association state General Secretary K Dhanalaskhmi tells TNM that whole the hike is welcome, it is not enough. “At the moment, the decision is appreciated. But the government must acknowledge ASHAs are labourers, and help them avail Employees' State Insurance (ESI), Provident Fund (PF) and other facilities as per labour laws,” she says.
Dhanalakshmi adds, "Rs 18,000 should be the basic salary for ASHAs, given the price rise in the market.”