Half forgotten Act
KATHMANDU: The health sector is one of the areas listed under the country’s Essential Services Act (ESA). However, vested groups and individuals
frequently disrupt health services in hospitals and clinics ignoring the ESA, which bans strikes in 16 essential services.
Experts believe that a weak government is the
primary reason behind
the increasing impunity in the society.
The protesters are taking advantage of a weak government by closing sensitive areas, Charan Prasai, a human rights activist said. Both the protesters and the government need to have knowledge about their right and duties, he said.
“The government is
not able to take action against those violating the law,” says Ram Chandra Simkhada, Secretary, Forum for Consumer Protection Nepal.
“Although the government has formulated
the ESA and has the full
authority, political leaders lack the political commitment to implement the Act,” he said.
A highly placed government official, requesting anonymity, said that they are unable to take any action because they don’t have the required law to punish them. “We are also worried that if we use force, then the incident may turn more violent,” he said. “It is really difficult to control the situation, until a new constitution is in place.”
According to the official, political parties have contributed to the situation. “It is the political parties
that have taught the people the bandh culture,” he
said. “Lack of political
commitment is encouraging the bandh culture in the health sector.”
Charan Prasai, a human rights activist said that the protesters are violating human rights and are depriving people of their fundamental rights. The government is responsible for creating a friendlier environment for medical personnel and preventing them from closing essential services, Prasai said.
There is a need to develop a new system to address the concerns of the health professional without affecting the rights of the people to health, experts believe.
According to Simkhada, the power of the bandh
culture is growing in strength and is becoming the only means through which people’s demands are being met.
“Everybody is concerned about fulfiling vested interests by taking advantage of the transitional period,” Simkhada says.
“Although they may have genuine demands related to their profession, it is not
the right way to put pressure on the government”
he said, adding that he
is always asking health workers to fulfil their responsibilities before demanding their rights from the government.
Kedar Narsing KC, president of Nepal Medical Association said that closing the health sector should follow a certain system and argued that the trade unions should have the right to protest, though in a peaceful way. He said that the
civil society, the media,
the government and other concerned bodies should show serious concern over the demands of the health professionals.
The government is trying to solve the present problem in the health sector and is in the process of amending laws in order to accommodate the demand of the protesters, according to Praveen Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP).
“We are committed to amending the laws and require some time to do it, but the protester groups want to address their problems as soon as possible,” Mishra said. The problems can be solved through dialogue and by submitting memorandum to the concerned groups and authorities, Mishra said.
Recent turmoil in health sector
• August 28: Post-graduate students of National Academy of Medical Sciences affiliated with Residents’ Association of NAMS halted their service for four days putting forth their nine-point demand. They demanded Rs 6,000 hike in their monthly salary. The doctors halted their regular services causing the hospital to stop admitting new patients and to cancel scheduled operation dates.
• September 1: Nursing services nationwide was halted for four days and concluded with a ten-point agreement between Nepal Nursing Association (NNA) and Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP). The protesting nurses closed down all services except the emergency in hospitals demanding the implementation of the six-point agreement signed with the government. They also demanded end to political interference in the medical sector. About 26,000 nurses supported the protest.
• September 10: Nepal Health Workers’ Union (NHWU) declared closure of health institutions nationwide from September 12 if their demands were not addressed on time. NHWU organized a sit- in protest in front of the Ministry of Health and Population. The Union threatened to close health centers if the Health Service Act was not amended on time.
The Essential Services Act (ESA), 1957, bans strikes and protests in 16 sensitive service sectors that are essential for the public. They are as follows:
• Banking services
• Postal service
• Electronic and print media
• Transportation service
including road, air and
• Work related to civil
aviation and maintenance of aircraft
• Public security
• Services on railway station and government storages
• Mint and government print service
• Manufacture of defense goods
• Electricity supply
• Drinking water supply
• Hotel, motel, restaurant, resort and tourist accommodation and other similar kinds of service
• Import and distribution of petroleum goods
• Hospital, health centres and manufacturing establishment of medicine and distribution
• Garbage collection, transfer and recycling services