After the mammoth protest in Bengaluru by the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers over non-payment of dues, the Karnataka government has met with the leaders of their union. Thousands of women from across the state came out in protest on Friday to bring attention to their plight.
But what is really causing the delay of payments? Some say that it is the fault of technology, and others say that the state government itself is not disbursing the funds even with all the data provided.
Asha workers are entitled to Rs 10,000 every month based on incentives. The Karnataka government pays a fixed amount of Rs 6000 to all ASHA workers, which they have been receiving. The remaining Rs 4000 is paid by the Central government, which gives this money on an incentive basis when all the targets are reached for the month.
'Central funds are not reaching the workers'
According to Nagalakshmi R, the Asha Union State Secretary, the main problem is with the incentives scheme, which is the Centre’s share of the incentives.
Two years ago, in September 2018, the Centre introduced a new centralised data entry system: Reproductive Child Health (RCH) portal. This system of data collection has been severely criticised by experts when it was first introduced, who condemned the surveillance of women’s bodies. The portal has the capacity to know how many children each woman has, and whether the state has been a part of the process, and if the mother has been sterilised. All this, activists allege is to meet the fertility goals of the country by the surveillance of individual mothers. Reports note that in Tamil Nadu, birth certificates cannot be issued without the RCH ID number, linked to the mother’s mobile number.
The ASHA workers' incentives are tied to their compliance of entering all the data into the RCH portal. However, on the ground, ASHA workers found that the problem with the RCH portal is it just doesn’t work. According to Nagalakshmi, the data entry is supposed to be done by the junior health assistant in the public health centres (PHC) but this position lies vacant across the state. Thus, the burden of the entry comes onto the Auxiliary nurse midwife, (ANM), who is the village level nurse.
However, the ANMs often are older women and do not have the competence to operate the software despite trainings. Nagalakshmi says, “They often fail in their duty to enter the data either because they are overworked or because they are older and don’t know how to operate the computers.”
Nagalakshmi says that the lack of good internet connections is also a barrier to the entry of the data. “It is not at all the responsibility of the ASHA workers to enter the data to the internet portal. However, they do it with great difficulty, at their own expense, at the local cyber centres.”
Sujatha from Haveri district says that even though she filled in the data diligently, she doesn’t get the payments as she should. “I have filled in the data every month, yet on some months I get a part payment, and others, I get none of the incentives. We want the government to give us only what is justly due for us, and stop making us run around from pillar to post.”
'Working on solutions': Sriramulu
Karnataka Health Minister B Sriramulu on Friday said the government is working on solutions to the problems the workers are facing. The ASHA Workers Union had suggested penalising ANMs by withholding salaries if they don’t do the data entry, which the state Health Ministry has accepted. Sriramulu also said they would extend the 104 helpline to ASHA workers if they have any concerns.
Nagalakshmi says she is unhappy with what the state government has promised. “The minister met with us, but he did not talk about the money which is due. If the work we have done is good, then we should be paid. The government doesn’t undertake any work without having funds allocated to it. Where are all the funds which were meant for the ASHA workers? We want the money to come in a lumpsum, based on the manual reports that we have.”
She went on to say that the indefinite protest, which began on Friday, will continue. “No orders have been passed regarding our payment backlogs of 15 months. We are going to continue the ASHA workers strike at all districts, until the backlogs are completely paid.”