In September 2019, the Kerala government launched the 108 Kanivu (Kerala Ambulance Network for Indisposed Victims) service for trauma care in government-run hospitals.
Launched initially in seven districts, it was extended to the rest of the districts in a phased manner. Kanivu replaced the earlier 108 ambulance service in the state.
The idea behind Kanivu was to provide medical care at the earliest given the fact that the number of causalities can be reduced if medical care is given during the golden hour. The ambulances have a pilot (driver), an emergency medical technician, and modern lifesaving equipment. There are 315 ambulances running across the state.
The service has been used extensively to check the spread of COVID-19 too, helping to shift people who need to be in isolation at hospitals. Fifty-four ambulances have been designated solely for this work. Two employees are now on home quarantine after they became symptomatic.
Now the total 1,300 employees, including administrative staff, field managers and executives associated with the ambulance service, say they have not been paid salary for a month. Launched by the Health Department ambulance network, Kanivu is operated by Telangana-based GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute. The staff are also appointed by GVK. The service is run through a control room at GVK’s state headquarters located at Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram with an Emergency Response Officer.
It’s learnt that Rs 2 crore is needed to disburse one month’s salary. The funds should be provided to GVK by the Kerala Medical Corporation Limited.
“We have not got our salaries because of the delay in transferring funds by the government. The delay has been there since the beginning. In the initial months the company managed to pay our salaries with their own funds. But now it seems like they have reached a saturation point, because Rs 6 crore is needed per month to operate the service,” a Kanivu ambulance driver told TNM.
The staff in all districts barring Thiruvananthapuram had given notice to the company that they would go on strike on March 5, but stepped back as the company had given a letter asking them to work in the light of increasing COVID-19 cases.
“We are trying not to go on strike considering the current situation, though in the previous months we resorted to protest measures like flash strikes whenever the salary was delayed. There is a monitoring committee for the service in each district with Collectors as chairpersons. We have given complaints to some Collectors earlier,” he added.
Before being transferred to Kanivu, the 108 ambulance staff were paid using National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) funds.
“We used to get the salary on time earlier. Now around 1,300 families across the state have been hit by the delay. When people are stocking things during the lockdown and curfew has been declared, those who depend on us can’t even buy essentials. The mental stress on us is huge. One of our staff members who couldn’t face his family without taking home any money didn’t go home for a few days and slept on the roadside. Later he was down with fatigue and had to be hospitalised,” a nurse from the service told TNM.
The staff are planning to conduct a press conference on Wednesday to announce that they would rather works as volunteers without taking any money.
“We can work as volunteers rather than working as employees with hunger. The government only needs to give meals packets for us and our family members,” a staff member said, adding, “GVK was given the contract as it is a company that could manage with its own funds even if the government fails to pay us.”
Saravanan A, Operations Head of GVK, however, said that the employees had assured that their salaries will be paid in a week.
“The funds are given by the government, not that the company has lost its financial stability; but there are certain things which we can’t disclose. We just want to point out that we have been operating the service for seven months,” he told TNM.