Without being categorized either as regular employees or as temporary staff, 1186 registered diploma pharmacists are working in the capacity of pharmacists in rural health sub-centres (RHSCs) in the villages of Punjab for the last 12 years depriving of regular pay scale for their work and without any other benefits due for an employee.
This harassment by the state government has been continuing since 2006 although there is an order from the Supreme Court of India that temporary employees are also entitled to wages on par with permanent employees.
Unfortunately, these RHSC pharmacists were recruited on contractual basis by the local resident medical officers for a meager sum of Rs 8000 per month as remuneration for the six hours services they render for the ailing society. Except 94 persons, all these rural pharmacists are D Pharm qualified people.
According to Rural Health Pharmacists Association (RHPA), an organization of 1200 pharmacists working in the RHSCs, they are supported by contractual appointment orders which are renewed by the government every year through a bill passed in the legislative assembly. But they lack the status of permanent staff or the temporary employees although their services are utilized for the public by the government. If these rural pharmacists were categorized under temporary category, their minimum salary would be Rs17,000, plus additional benefits.
Shubham Sharma, executive committee member of the RHPA and working pharmacist in a rural health sub-centre in Bhatinda, while speaking to Pharmabiz over telephone, said since RHSCs are functioning under the Rural Development & Punchayath Department, they do not come in the pharmacist cadres of the health department. In 2006, the state government separated the RHSCs from the health department and brought it under the rural development and punchayath department. Since then, the appointment of pharmacists in the pharmacies of the RHSCs are made by the rural resident medical officers, but extension is given by the state government every year.
Sharma further said, usually temporary staff are appointed for a period of less than 12 months. In Punjab, these contractual employees are working all the 12 months in a year and without a day’s break their services are extended for another term. But the government of Punjab does not care for the wages and the life security of the rural pharmacists despite various kinds of protests and court cases. All the 1186 pharmacists have been working in the health sub-centres since 2006, but so far no government has taken any step for regularizing their services.
“We are being harassed by the governments for the last 12 years. Two of our colleagues committed suicide due to the intolerable harassment. We have no life security, we are not getting the minimum wages of a pharmacist, but our services are utilized by the government. As per drugs and cosmetics act, we are qualified for pharmacist posts and we obtained High Court direction for the government in the wake of the supreme court order of 2016. Still, harassment of the government towards us is continuing without absorbing us as government employees”, Sharma told Pharmabiz.
He further alleged that there was not only violation of Supreme Court order in their case, but breach of drugs and pharmacy acts was also prevailed in the RHSCs. Among the 1186 pharmacists, 94 persons are without any background of pharmacy education, but possessing certificates of some paramedical courses. They have also been recruited for handling the hospital pharmacies in the sub-centres.
In 2016, the Supreme Court, in a case (State of Punjab v/s Jagjit Singh) held that temporary employees would be entitled to draw wages on par with permanent employees and the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ must be followed. As far as RHSC pharmacists are concerned, they are neither regular staff nor temporary employees.
All over Punjab, for the services of rural healthcare 1186 health sub-centres are working. The state health department is controlling 450 PHCs, 22 civil hospitals (district level), 150 urban health centres and four government medical colleges. Vacancies of pharmacists in all these institutions altogether come around 1200. The last recruitment for pharmacists in health department was done in 1996, said Sharma.
While discussing this issue with All India Pharmacists Organization, they said in Punjab, the government has made B Pharm as the minimum qualification for pharmacist posts in the health department. The members of RHPA are only diploma holders. All over India, the pharmacists associations are raising demand for upgrading the basic qualification for pharmacists to degree level.