'108' staff strike work as police detain protesters

Govt bus drivers to take over ambulances; PHC nurses to be roped in

'108' staff strike work as police detain protesters

The protest by the drivers and paramedics of the ‘108’ Arogya Kavacha ambulance service intensified on Wednesday night after the drivers began handing over keys of the ambulances to the district health officers (DHOs) across the State and struck work.

The decision to strike work was taken after the Bengaluru police detained around 1,700 drivers and paramedics in the afternoon after they had threatened to march from Freedom Park to Vidhana Soudha and sweep the streets in protest and also consume poison. Even as the protest was on from Monday, the drivers and paramedics had not refrained from work.

Having anticipated the move, the department of health and family welfare had planned a number of interim measures. The BMTC and KSRTC bus drivers are to drive the ambulance vehicles. Also, one out of three staff nurses from the 24-hour primary health centres would be deployed in place of the protesting paramedics, officials said.

Members of the Karnataka ‘108’ drivers and paramedics association have been protesting, refusing to sign an undertaking which their employer GVK EMRI had given them, on the grounds that this would take away their basic constitutional rights. Led by former minister Goolihatti Shekar, the protesters began marching from Freedom Park, forcing the police to detain them.

Shrishail Hallur, president of the association, said: “We have only asked them to give us our share of money. Ours is not a great demand that the government is taking so long to respond. We are also ready to go on a hunger strike for the cause,” he added.

The employees disagree with three points in the undertaking which states that they cannot talk to the media nor the government about their grievances. It also says drivers cannot refrain from work or stage a protest come what may. 

‘Staged’ protest
Terming the protests as a charade, Health Minister U T Khader said the entire protest was stage-managed by drivers, to “intentionally” inconvenience the public. He said the drivers had been suspended with immediate effect. The DHOs have been instructed to book criminal cases against the protesting drivers and paramedical staff who have not handed over the ambulance keys and the mobile phones. If need be, the department would integrate around 800 government ambulances into Arogya Kavacha, for the time being.

‘Conspiracy’ comes to the fore
Addressing the media after a video conference with DHOs, Minister Khader released a 12-minute audio clip, a conversation between two drivers, who he said were masterminds behind the protest.
In the audio clip, Ashok and Narasimha from Chikkaballapur and Bengaluru are heard ‘conspiring’ against the department and Khader.
They decide to hold the protest on Republic Day as the entire police force will be busy. They also decide to pull out the ambulance service in the night and ask all drivers to switch off their phones. This way, the public will certainly be inconvenienced. To make sure that there is proper media coverage, they decide to pose as patients and give statements against the department. They also plan to file a PIL in the court, posing as members of the public. Not only are they heard calling Khader names using unparliamentary language, they also decide to ‘bribe’ media personnel. The drivers are convinced that the department is not in a position to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) or make alternative arrangements. This way, they could “teach” the government a lesson.

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