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Resident government doctors in Maharashtra call off strike

"We have decided to call off the strike in view of the government's assurances to continue negotiations on our pending demands," Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD) president Santosh Wakchaure told mediapersons here.

Wakchaure said the medicos decided to call off their agitation in view of the severe drought situation in large parts of the state and the doctors did not want to add to the woes of the people.

The announcement came barely hours after around 2,000 MARD doctors declared that they had called off the strike and would resume duties Friday night.

The doctors called off their strike following the High Court order and the state government's decision to invoke stringent Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) against the agitators.

Resident government doctors in Maharashtra call off strike
Residents doctor of Sion hospital running a parallel out-patient department (OPD) outside the hospital 

This left around 1,500 doctors working in three major hospitals run in Mumbai by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), who are still on strike since last Tuesday.

The chief demands of MARD included enhanced stipend and better working conditions.

The strike proved a harrowing experience for thousands of patients in the government-run hospitals.

Adopting a tough stand, the state government Thursday night threatened to invoke the stringent Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act against the striking medicos.

The government also slapped eviction notices on the medicos to vacate their official quarters in various hospitals and medical colleges if they continued the strike.

The medicos, who get a stipend of Rs.31,000 per month, have been offered Rs.36,000 by the government, but the doctors are adamant on Rs.41,000.

According to indications, the doctors will start resuming their duties Friday night and the situation is expected to return to normal by Saturday morning.

Medical Education Minister Vijaykumar Gavit said talks were on between the deans of civic hospitals and MARD.

Ordinance invoking MESMA was issued last night. Director of Health Services at Bombay Municipal Corporation has been asked to invoke the act if the striking doctors at civic hospitals do not report to work on Saturday, Gavit said, adding that he hoped the doctors would not force the government to take the stand.

The minister said the government would fulfill assurances given to MARD on April 22, the day before the strike started.

The government has agreed to hike the doctors' stipend, which at present ranges between Rs 31,000 to Rs 35,000 per month, by Rs 5,000 per month.

The cabinet would decide when the hike would come into effect, Gavit said.

MARD had demanded basic pay of Rs 15,500 against the present Rs 6,500, and facilities on par with resident doctors of central government institutions.  

In 2009, the government had assured that stipend would be increased every three years.

"Decision on whether to effect the hike from 2012 or from this year will be taken in the cabinet meeting. The government incurs expenditure of Rs 130 crore every year on stipend of resident doctors. If the hike is effected from today, the burden would be additional Rs 15 to 16 crore," Gavit said.

MARD representatives told him they were calling off the strike in view of the HC order (asking them to call off the agitation), drought in the state and sufferings of patients, Gavit said.

"We would probe if the doctors were instigated to go on strike and action would be taken against the guilty," he said.

Regarding fees of Other Backward Classes (OBC) students, he said, Social Justice department had earmarked funds for paying 50 per cent fees of OBC students for the last two years.

About security at hospitals (as resident doctors often become target of angry relatives of patients if something goes wrong) Gavit said CCTV network and permanent security guards were being provided. Rs 2 crore has been sanctioned for enhancing security, he said.

If the government failed to provide a posting to the students in three months, they would be freed of the bond which requires serving at government hospitals in rural areas after graduation, he said.

On the demand that tuition fee be fixed at Rs 44,000, contrary to the cabinet's earlier decision to raise it 10 per cent every year, Gavit said he would raise the issue in the cabinet meeting.  

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