Srinagar: The drivers and technicians, working with the 108-ambulance service in Kashmir, on Thursday said that that they are “grossly underpaid” despite emerging as the backbone of the emergency services network in Kashmir valley.
“Besides, there is no job security whatsoever,” a driver, working with the service, told Kashmir Reader.
The 108 Ambulance Service is being run under National Health Mission in Jammu and Kashmir and has been outsourced to a company named Bharat Vikas Group (BVG). The service commenced in Jammu and Kashmir in the year 2020.
“And this ambulance network has seriously changed the face of the emergency services in Kashmir,” the driver said, requesting not to be named, “Pregnancies, emergencies, Covid, Amarnath Yatra – you name it and we have catered it all.”
The employees, around 1150 of them including drivers and technicians, however, say that they do not get paid enough. The starting salary for a driver is Rs 8400 and Rs 9600 for the technicians.
“And there is a 10 percent yearly increment,” a technician told Kashmir Reader, “It does not suffice our needs. In this contemporary times with inflation skyrocketing can you imagine feeding a family with a meager eight to ten thousand rupees?”
The employees said that despite being paid paltry sum, they are not allowed to voice their concerns anywhere. “Even when we are taken to the necessary training in Tangmarg area, we are told not to disclose our salaries,” the employees said, “What are they hiding if they are paying us right?”
108 is a free ambulance service and has catered to more than 1, 78, 000 patients in J&K since its inception here. The service, as per people, has been a great help with life-saving equipment embedded in it and a trained technician attending the patient.
“Plus, we put fifteen days and an equal number of nights in our monthly duty roaster. The hospital ambulance drivers are getting paid hefty amounts while they hardly ferry patients since the inception of this service,” the employees said.
They lamented that they have no job security whatsoever and can be laid off at the smallest of the prefixes by the company. “We cannot even think of doing a part-time job to increase our income, given this job is immensely taxing and time-consuming. All we are asking for is decent pay so that our families are well-fed while we save lives out there,” the employees said.
Kashmir Reader talked to the Project Manager of the BVG, Mushtaq Ahmad, who said that the company was paying its employees in accordance with the government’s “minimum pay” directive.
“And we are giving them a yearly increment of ten percent,” he said. “It is not true that they are directed to not disclose their salaries while on training.”
Ahmad said that as far as job security is concerned, people are laid off only if there are any disciplinary complaints against them. “For example, if a driver seeks money from the patients he is ferrying. It is serious misconduct and cannot be tolerated,” he said, adding, “Otherwise, we are investing heavily in our employees in terms of training and other skills. Why would we lay them off? It will be the company that will be at loss,”
He said that the 108 has been doing wonderfully well in Kashmir, and claimed that over 600 deliveries were conducted in the ambulance while the patients were being ferried to the hospital.
“Over 12,000 Covid patients were ferried in these vehicles since 2020 and we have just begun,” he said, adding, “We do care for our patients. However, this is an outsourced project and there are set laid down procedures for everything.”