We are re-publishing below a joint statement produced by various trade unions, union activists and New Socialist Alternative (CWI in India) regarding the covid-19 crisis in India. It is a scandal that private hospitals across India are charging Rs 4500 ($60 approximately) for each covid-19 test. The overwhelming majority of India’s workers and poor people cannot afford to have their families or even individuals tested. Yet the Constitution of India speaks of the “right to life” being fundamental and obliging the government to ensure the “right to life”.
This statement is produced with the aim of mobilising wider working class support for demanding free tests and also the nationalisation of health care.
The organisations listed below have signed the statement. We call on trade unions, trade union members and socialists in India, and across the world, to add their name to support this urgent call for nationalised healthcare in India.
New Socialist Alternative
Lal Batwata Shetmajoor Union
Maharashtra (Lal Bawata Farm Laborer’s Union)
Maharashtra State Bank Employees Federation Center of Trade Unions (CITU)
National Alliance of People’s Movements
BSNL Employee’s Union
All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) INTUC (Maharashtra)
Annapurna Parivar General Kamgar Union (Lal Bawata)
Upholding the commercial interests of private labs, the central government earlier had allowed them to charge Rs. 4500 for conducting covid-19 tests. Last week, on 8th April, the Supreme Court, in an interim order, revoked the decision and made it mandatory for the private labs to conduct the tests free of cost. Considering the grim situation prevailing in the country, this was a relief to the majority of the population who did not have any means to pay Rs 4,500 for the test. On 13th April, however, the Central government filed an affidavit in the court, urging the petition to be dismissed and thus paving the way for private laboratories to continue to charge for tests. The Supreme Court accordingly changed the earlier order. We strongly condemn such a position taken by the central government.
These private labs are big corporate companies functioning for profit. Their accountability lies to their shareholders, to boost the returns on their investments, and not to the masses. The Supreme Court’s direction unequivocally questioned the very commercial interests of these companies. In response, these capitalists vehemently attacked the Supreme Court (SC) decision and engaged in hard lobbying to get it reversed. Thyrocare Lab went to the extent of announcing that it was putting corona testing on hold. Other labs have adopted similar positions, arguing that further testing would not be sustainable. It is amply clear that these companies, with their profit turnovers ranging from few a hundred to thousand crores [a unit of value equal to ten million rupees or 100 Lakhs] would not hesitate to pull such nasty tactics as suspending further tests, thereby endangering many lives, in order to further their commercial interests.
One would expect the central government to swing into action immediately and take over these private labs and hospitals. Far from that, the central government chose to align itself with billionaire investors and owners of these companies whilst leaving the majority of its people high and dry. This is shameful and outrageous. Very clearly the government is serving to the interests of capitalists, which are polar opposite to those of the people. In its affidavit, the central government claimed that the poorer sections and individuals would be offered free testing, treatment under Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana (it is claimed that around 50 crore are covered under it) and hence no need to make testing free of charge. This is deceitful, to say the least. First of all, considering the flaws in the scheme and red tape, it is questionable whether all those entitled would actually get benefits. But even if one assumes so, what about the rest of 85 crore people? Does the government intend to reduce the value of the majority of its population into mere customers for these private companies?
Today, the working class in the country is undergoing acute misery. Even the middle class is no more spared as lockdown and have had to shut down many businesses, and many jobs are lost. Many doctors, nurses, Anganwadi sevikas and medical staff are risking their lives while dealing with the corona crisis by not having any personal protection equipment (PPE). Many workers in both the public and private health sector do not even earn Rs. 4,500 that the private labs are charging for a single test. It is scandalous that even under such grave situations the central government has chosen to serve filthy rich owners and investors of these companies.
In the last two decades, these big companies earned thousands of crores of profits by turning health services into commodities and people into customers. On the basis of such commercialization, they have built thousands of hospitals, laboratories, well equipped with lakhs of beds, medical equipment like ventilators . All this health infrastructure is very much needed to deal with the corona crisis. The Mumbai metropolitan area consists of a population of over two crores. But it has only a few hospitals to treat corona patients. THe government, upholding the interests of billionaire capitalists, is ignoring that of billions of masses would be fatal under such circumstances.
We demand the government to make not just testing but even treatment free of cost. The government must seize the private labs and hospitals and open their resources – facilities for all the people – and not only a few in the fight against corona.
- Provide not only corona testing but even treatment free of cost.
- Take over private labs and private hospitals immediately and make them part of the public healthcare system. Bring them under the democratic control of the medical staff, nurses, doctors, government and patient representatives.
- Provide personal protection (PPE) equipment to all Government and private sector doctors, nurses, other medical staff and Anganwadi workers.
- A minimum wages of 25,000 or more to all the Anganwadi workers, private and government health sector workers, including even contract staff.
- Conduct the distribution of relief material under the monitoring of elected local bodies and community representatives.
Youvraj, Public Health Service Campaign
New Socialist Alternative
Com. Rajan Kshirsagar, President, Lal Bawata Shetmajoor Union, Maharashtra (Lal Batwata Farm Labourers Union)
Devidas Tulajapurkar, General Secretary, Maharashtra State Bank Employees Federation
Medha Patkar, National Alliance of People’s Movement
Dr. D. L. Karad, National Vice-President, Center of Indian Trade Union (CITU)
Com. Rajan Dani, State Secretary, BSNL Employees Union
Anil Ganacharya, Vice-President, INTUC (Maharashtra)
Prakash Bansode, Central Committee Member, AITUC
Com. Raju Paranjpe, President, General Kamgar Union (Lal Bawata)