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Nurses’ agitation: Two contrasting narratives, no solution in sight

Nagaland News

DIMAPUR, NOVEMBER 20: Protest, agitation, dharna, sit-in, stir ~ by whichever name it is called ~ Nagaland Government is no stranger to any of them. In fact, it can be suggested that it shares an uncomfortably close relation with them all.
Over the years, it has bowed down to various acts of protestations, including those by its own employees. On the rare instances, however, the Government has displayed steel to repel threats and ultimatums, and stand firm.
The State Government’s ability (or inability) to douse fire inside its own building is being put to test again today after a group of nurses recruited during the COVID pandemic recently announced an indefinite agitation to demand regularisation of their service and release of their salary pending for 4 months.
Two contrasting narratives have emerged from the ongoing stare-off between the agitating nurses and the State Government, and neither seems minded to blink first.
‘Aggrieved’ version
One hundred and twenty-five nurses ~ identifying themselves as Department Recruited Aggrieved Nurses (DRAN) 2021 ~ have launched the protest to demand the Health and Family Welfare Department to regularise their service and to honour the July 5, 2020 Cabinet memorandum and an advertisement published on July 16, 2020.
The July 5 memo states: “As per recommendation of the manpower rationalisation committee, the Department is to fill up 50% of the post of staff nurse from queue of former nursing diploma/graduates and remaining 50% to be filled up through direct recruitment and open competition”.
According to DRAN, the Department, in continuation to the July 16 advertisement for recruitment of 110 Staff Nurses through Department Recruitment Board, notified that an additional post of 19 would be added to the existing 110 i.e. the total number of post for Staff Nurse would be 129.
The now-aggrieved nurses say that when they received their appointment letters on April 15, 2021, the words “temporarily engaged” were included “which is in stark contrast” to the July 17 advertisement’s invitation for applications “for recruitment against newly created posts on Regular Basis under the Department of HFW through the Recruitment Board”.
Nurses appointed after leaving National Health Mission were also designated with the words “temporarily engaged”, it stated. Accordingly, the aggrieved 125 nurses (4 out of the 129 joined other services) are said to have submitted several representations to the Department officials, culminating in an ultimatum that expired on October 31.
Then on November 2, the Health Department published an advertisement for recruitment of 129 staff nurses through Nagaland Public Service Commission (NPSC) ~ prompting the DRAN members to launch the agitation.
It has accused the State Government of adopting a ‘use and discard policy’ ~ a reference to the recruitment of DRAN members at an unforgiving time when COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak and Nagaland was facing dire shortage of health workers.
‘Corrigendum’ version
According to the Health Department, the Cabinet on June 12, 2020 created 143 posts of Staff and another 78 posts on June 25, 2020 “with clear direction that these appointments will be temporary and regular recruitment shall be conducted through special NPSC recruitment drive”.
Further, as per the recommendation of Manpower Rationalisation Committee (MRC), the Department stated that 50% of the posts would be filled up from the queue of former Nursing Diploma/Graduates and the remaining 50% through direct recruitment and open competition.
As per the Department, basing on a Cabinet memo dated June 25, 2020, it issued a notification on July 5, 2020, framing the basic guidelines for recruitment and service condition of Medical Officers, Nurses, Technicians and other Para-medical staff.
“The Clause 2 of the notification stated that these appointments will be temporary/fixed and that regular recruitment shall be conducted through special NPSC recruitment drive for all posts coming under the purview of NPSC. Clause 5 of the notification stated that as per the recommendation of the MRC, 50% of the post of Staff Nurse to be filled up through queue system and 50% through open recruitment and competition.
“After which, advertisement was issued on July 16, 2020, for recruitment of 110 posts of Staff Nurse on regular basis. ‘Regular basis’ was mentioned erroneously and was corrected through a corrigendum issued on July 17, 2020, wherein the advertisement was rectified and regular appointment was corrected as temporary appointment. Thereafter, addendum was issued in November, whereby 19 posts were added for recruitment bringing the total number of Staff Nurse’s posts for open recruitment to 129”, it stated.
According to the Department, the Unemployed Trained Nurses Association (UNTA), “dissatisfied with the Cabinet decision and Department notification of July 5, 2020, to fill up Staff Nurse posts on 50/50 ratio”, filed a case in Kohima Bench of Gauhati High Court. However, the Court ruled that there was nothing illegal in the July 5 notification and also decided not to interfere with the Cabinet decision, it stated.
Following the Court ruling, the Department conducted “an exercise for engagement for filling up of 129 posts of Staff Nurse” and order was issued on April 15, 2021 with the terms and conditions: “Engagement shall be for the period of 12 months only or till regular appointment is made through NPSC whichever is earlier. The appointees shall have no right to claim for regularisation of the engagement of contingency basis on any ground whatsoever and the engagement shall be liable to be terminated at any time without any notice and without assigning any reason thereof”.
Accordingly, a notification for a special recruitment drive, including Staff Nurses, to be conducted by the NPSC was issued on November 2, with due weightage of marks accorded for COVID-19 duty @ 25% and work experience @10%. Since issuing this clarification, the Government has termed the ongoing nurses’ agitation as illegal under the provisions of Nagaland Essential Services (Maintenance Act, 1978).
Latest stand
On November 19, the agitating nurses countered that the Governments invocation of Nagaland Essential Services (Maintenance) Act, 1978 was in violation of the Fundamental Rights of a citizen. According to the group, NPSC recruitment is normal “but COVID pandemic recruitment is an extraordinary circumstances recruitment in a do-or-die emergency basis” and outside the purview of NPSC recruitment.
“Condition of advertisement is the basis of any appointment in public service overriding previous or subsequent notification/order/guidelines/letters of administrative actions, and the advertisement clearly says ‘regular basis’ appointment. In Unemployed Trained Nurses Association (UTNA) case WP (C) No. 93/20, the High Court has upheld advertisement dated 16-7-2020 and notification dated 5-7-2020 by dismissing the UTNA case. That means the condition of appointment of DRAN has to be strictly as per the advertisement 16-7-2020”, it maintained.
Slowly, the language of exchange is turning legal. But usually, legal procedures are expensive. But who can afford to blink first?
(Page News Service)