Geeta Acharya, pursuing MBBS from a renowned medical college in the city had not slept properly for the last few months. She studied till late night hours and woke up in the wee hours to get hands on with the topics of her syllabus. As the exam appeared closer, she was all prepared and looked all set to take the papers head on. But all her hopes turned into despair when Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) indefinitely postponed examinations for various graduate and postgraduate courses. Geeta is not the isolated case in point. There are nearly 45,000 medical students in 311 medical colleges across Maharashtra feeling the pinch of the situation. The exams were originally scheduled to commence from November 26.
Ankit Sharma, a second year post graduate student said, “We are forced to face the whims of the union. They just keep aside all the concerns about students when it comes to seeking benefit for them. At least they should have tried to keep the examination dates intact. All our preparations have gone in vain.”
The decision was taken on November 16, after the MUHS failed to break the deadlock despite talks with the university’s non-teaching staff union that has been on strike over various demands for a week now.
MUHS Vice-Chancellor Arun Jamkar conceded that work in the university had been adversely hit due to the strike. He added that the postponement of exams would impact dental, physiotherapy, allopathy and other streams.
Union representatives blamed MUHS for the stalemate. “We have been forced to go on strike. Despite assurances, our demands have been repeatedly overlooked,” said MUHS Non-Teaching Employees Union member Deepak Shelke.
Elaborating on the demands, Shelke said, “Despite being a state-run university, the employees, many of whom have been working since its inception in 1998, have not been accorded permanent status. Also, while the state government pays salaries to the employees, they are not covered under the Maharashtra Civil Services (MCS) rules. This means that they neither have job security nor are eligible for post-retirement benefits.”
He added, “While there are 311 colleges under MUHS, the Nashik based university, in the state, the government has merely sanctioned 145 posts, causing immense workload and burden on the employees. On par with the sanctioned staff strength in other state-run universities, we have been demanding that at least 400 posts be sanctioned. No one is paying heed to the demand. Also, about 100 employees, hired on ad hoc basis for a five-year period, have not been accommodated.”
Jamkar, however, said the demands were justified and that he had already approached “higher authorities” for their consideration. “There are about 145 government-sanctioned and 150 university-sanctioned posts,” he said, adding: “The non-teaching staff does not receive any medical claim or pension benefit.”
Meanwhile the statewide union of non-teaching staff of secondary schools has offered its support to the MUHS agitation. While the school union has not yet disclosed it plans for an agitation similar to the MUHS employees, sources say that the school employees could soon start another agitation as they have a list of 35 grievances against the government. Meanwhile, the medical education ministry said that the MUHS employees had been invited to have talks with deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar on Wednesday to find a solution.
According to Deepak Shelke, member of the MUHS Non-Teaching Employees Union, even as the indefinite strike entered the tenth day on Wednesday there was no hint of their agitation ending soon. “Even though we have valid demands the government has failed to respond in any way. It just shows the apathy of the government towards the 45,000 final year under-graduate and post-graduate students who have been affected by the postponement of the exams by the University due to the strike,” said Mr Shelke.
Meanwhile, an official from the medical education ministry said that a meeting of the agitators had been arranged with the deputy chief minister on Wednesday. “Mr Pawar has been apprised of the demands of the union and we are hopeful that his intervention will resolve the issue,” said the official.