Union labour and employment minister Sis Ram Ola’s decision to set up a medical college in his Lok Sabha constituency Jhunjhunu has set off a heated battle with members of the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC).
Ola, who is the chairman of the ESIC, approved the proposal, along with setting up two other similar medical colleges linked to the ESI on September 19. But members of the ESIC, which includes trade union leaders, representatives from various employers’ federations and state government officials, told The Indian Express that the decision was taken amid stiff opposition.
Incidentally, one of the proposals for a medical college that was cleared at the meeting was for Mavelikkara (Kerala) that is the Lok Sabha constituency of the minister of state for labour Kodikunnil Suresh. The third proposal was for Kanpur.
At least five members of the ESIC are understood to have raised serious concerns to the plan. However, the minutes of the meeting that were approved by Ola last week said, “Sensing the majority voice of the house, the agenda for setting up new medical projects at three locations was approved out of seven total proposals.”
The ESIC has also decided to set up a special committee to examine the viability of the remaining proposals from Ramgarh (Jharkhand), Raipur (Chhattisgarh), Village Saneta (Punjab) and Asansol (West Bengal).
“We had questioned this proposal from the start on the grounds that ESIC should not be in the business of setting up medical colleges as its main objective is to provide health benefits to workers through hospitals. But we were overruled,” said a member of the board, adding that the issue will be taken up in the next meeting. G Sanjeeva Reddy, president, INTUC, who is also a part of the ESIC board also confirmed the developments.
Ola and AK Agarwal, DG, ESIC did not respond to detailed e-mail questionnaires sent by The Indian Express. But labour ministry sources said that such medical colleges are being proposed “to train doctors for the ESIC hospitals”. Since land was easily available at Jhunjhunu, the proposal was cleared, said a senior labour ministry official. “Funds will not be a problem as we have hiked the wage ceiling for the scheme,” he added.
The ESI scheme provides mandatory health cover and unemployment benefits to formal sector workers with a gross salary of Rs 25,000 per month. Although it has been running hospitals under the scheme for the purpose, it has