The ongoing strike by resident doctors in Delhi is not just a protest against the assault on a colleague by the relatives of a patient in a West Delhi hospital. The protest is also against ad hoc female resident doctors being denied maternity leaves, and allegedly being told to resign by many hospital administrations if they ask for such leaves. This is taking place in Delhi government hospitals such as Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Govind Ballabh Pant and Lok Nayak hospitals, and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) hospital Hindu Rao.

Resident doctors serve on an ad hoc (temporary) basis and are later made “regular”. In the usual course, the tenure of a resident doctor is 89 days, which can be extended up to three years for a senior resident doctor and one year for a junior one. However, doctors claim that the entire duration of a resident doctor in Delhi government hospitals is spent working on an ad hoc basis.

The revised version of the Maternity Benefit Act 1961—Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017—extends paid maternity leaves for women employed in factories, mines, or commercial establishments employing 10 or more employees, from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, and became effective only on 1 April 2017. However, the administration is allegedly refusing even a single day off, citing “non-provision of orders to provide maternity benefits to ad hoc doctors”. The Sunday Guardian talked to some of the doctors who had to quit, and a few others who had to file an application in the High Court to avail of the maternity benefits stated under the Act.

SIMILAR ORDEALS

According to advocate H.S. Thukral, the Centre had extended the period of maternity leave from 12 weeks to 180 days for government hospitals in 2008, way before the amended Act of 2017 came into force. The Act is applicable to all types of employees, provided they have put in a service of 80 days in the last 12 months, from the day the employees had asked for leave, and calls for no discrimination between a regular and an ad hoc employee.

However, Dr Samvedna, who was working as a senior resident in Hindu Rao for over one-and-a-half-years, did not get a single day off despite repeated pleas for unpaid leaves. She filed a case in the High Court, the notice of which was even sent to the hospital administration a month ago.

“The hospital was supposed to send in a response by 31 March 2017, but I haven’t heard anything from them yet. I went there almost three months ago, and they asked me to re-appear for an interview and join as a fresh employee,” she said.

Dr Deepti Bansal, who was working as a senior resident doctor since September 2015 on an ad hoc basis in the department of Pathology at Baba Saheb Ambedkar (BSA) Hospital, was told that her contract would be terminated immediately if she went on maternity leave, following which she resigned on 31 January.

“Central government hospitals in Delhi like Safdarjung Hospital and Ram Manohar Lohia give six months of maternity leave to ad hoc employees. However, BSA hospital administration said they did not have any orders for ad hoc doctors and refused to help any further,” Dr Abhishek Bansal, Dr Deepti’s husband, said, adding that they decided not to take the matter to court because she was already in the ninth month of her pregnancy and they didn’t have time to go for court proceedings.

Requesting anonymity, a doctor from Govind Ballabh Pant hospital said she was suffering from a similar ordeal. On being told by the administration that she had “no right to avail maternity benefits”, she filed an application to be forwarded to the Health Department, Delhi Secretariat, in September 2016. She is still awaiting a reply. “Four resident doctors from GB Pant were simultaneously declined maternity leaves. Now when I ask them about my application status, they simply ask me to wait. It has been six months now,” she said.

Back in 2009, Dr Pragati Gupta from Guru Tegh Bahadur hospital approached the then Health Minister of Delhi and visited the Delhi Secretariat several times, after which a legal board was set up to look into the matter. Gupta was granted paid maternity leave thereafter, her husband told this correspondent.

Dr Dipesh Saxena, president of the Resident Doctors’ Association, Hindu Rao hospital, said that it is not just ad hoc doctors who are declined benefits, but regular doctors, too, are deprived of benefits and told that they are working on a contractual basis.

A senior official from Safdarjung hospital claimed that in all these cases, the Medical Superintendents (MSs) and Heads of Department (HODs) disapprove maternity leaves verbally, without any proper documentation or written justification.

The Sunday Guardian tried contacting the various MSs and HODs of these government hospitals, but they were unavailable for comment. A senior doctor from the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan hospital refused to comment on the matter.

‘NOT BEING MADE REGULAR’

Resident doctors allege that for the past three to four years, these hospitals are hiring them only on an ad hoc basis, without making them regular, and hence purposely depriving them of the benefits enjoyed by regular employees.

“Earlier, all government hospitals would make the ad hoc staff regular after a few months to pave the way for fresh recruitments. However, the authorities suddenly stopped the process around three years ago. We even approached the Delhi Medical Association, which even wrote a letter to the Health Minister of Delhi regarding this issue, but the Health Department did not do anything on the matter,” Dr Abhishek Bansal said.

While a few doctors said that senior residents don’t plan a family until they are made regular, Dr Bansal said that by the time a lady doctor becomes a senior resident, she is almost 30 and any further delay in planning a baby leads to greater chances of having problems in pregnancy.

Dr Samvedna echoed similar sentiments when said that the senior administration at the Hindu Rao hospital has not conducted a single interview to make ad hocs regular in the past four to five years. “There are 32 senior resident doctors at Hindu Rao and all of them are working on an ad hoc basis. Same is the case with all MCD hospitals in Delhi,” she said.

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