This is the second article in the series, on the announcement of the intention of the Government to free the employees from being held hostage by the Government of India itself, through ESIC. The former one is available at https://flourishingesic.info/2015/02/28/making-esi-medical-facilities-optional-abdication-of-responsibility/
The essential questions now, after the employees choose private operators for medical benefit, are “Who will provide Sickness Benefit? And, on whose certificate? And, what is the monitoring mechanism?”
Or, has the BJP chosen to do away with the Sickness Benefit altogether?
Have the officials who suggested this proposal examined all the issues of various dimensions involved in it?
The people who are farm workers are paid only for the day of actual work. If they fall sick they would not be able to go for work and will be confined to bed to take rest. There would be no income for them for those days of abstention from work. On the other hand, they would have to spend money for medical treatment during that period. That expenditure must be meted out from their savings or by borrowing.
The same was the case with industrial workers before the ESIC came on the scene. It was this kind of situation, the loss of income during certain period coupled with the necessity of incurring medical expenditure during the same period, that was sought to be answered to by the ESI Scheme. Once covered under the ESI Scheme, the employees get medical treatment and medicines from the ESI medical institutions. The period for which they are required to be on abstention from duty is decided by the medical officers of the ESIC who issue certificate to that effect. The employees get around 60-70% of their wages in cash for those periods of abstention as Sickness Benefit for a maximum of 91 days in two consecutive Benefit Periods, which is actually one full year.
Now that the overenthusiastic BJP regime has declared its intention to free the employees from being held hostages by the Government of India (as invented by Mr. Jaitely), will the BJP stalwart explain the consequences of his decision on Sickness Benefit?
Maybe, they would not want to step back for reasons of prestige. They may even declare that the private medical institutions would issue certificates, which must be honoured by the ESIC Branch Offices.
Or, they may say that there will be no Sickness Benefit at all.
Anyway, if the former is the solution given by them, another question arises. The Medical Officers of the ESIC are monitored through a system of Medical Referees of the same organisation. What will be the system to monitor the private agencies that provide treatment and issue certificate to the employees?
Extended Sickness Benefit
Moreover, what will be the fate of the celebrated and important Extended Sickness Benefit?
No certification in the UK for Cash Benefit
Significantly, there is no system of certificates being issued by the medical officers in the UK. They provide only treatment and recommend the period of leave. It is the employees who decide the period of abstention and get cash benefit for those periods from post offices. Can Mr. Jaitely usher in that era? In India, we could not bring it into force for the past 40 years, only because of the general tendency of choosing to remain on leave for the entire period of 91 days. Our society did not become that mature, at least, up to 1989.
That was the reason for the introduction of the words ‘strike’ in Sec. 63 and Sec. 97 (iv-b) of the ESI Act in the year 1989. One would be happy if the Indian society has become so mature that the Government considered it unnecessary to retain these checks and balances.
Or, another method is to make the Sickness Benefit totally unattractive, by reducing the percentage of the benefit. But, as per ILO mandate, it cannot be reduced below 45% of the wages earned.
So, the alternative is to change the beautiful, time-tested and war-withered-veteran, the Sec. 2 (22) and modify the definition of the term ‘wages’.
Wages can, hereafter, be defined as the basic pay only which may be decided only by the employer and it may even, for example, be just 10% of the total wages. So, even if the Sickness Benefit were increased to 100%, the quantum of benefit would not be attractive to the Insured Person.
No need to worry how he would sustain his family during the period of Sickness and Extended Sickness that runs into two years, i.e, 730 days. Mr. Jaitely, the Finance Minister, has now the authority to believe that such people would fend for themselves.
Adharkar was prophetic!
Pity, a Noble scheme of the Government of India has fallen, for quite some time, already, into the feeble hands of the corrupt and inept! Prof. Adharkar was prophetic. He said that the success of the ESI Scheme depended not only on the honest working of the ESI Act by all concerned. But, by introducing some more measures by the Government. He wanted that the ESI Scheme should not be “saddled with burdens legitimately belonging to other branches of social insurance”. Therefore, while formulating the ESI Scheme, he made four assumptions for its success. They are:
- Adoption of a scheme for Unemployment Insurance and creation of new employments in the post war period,
- Establishment of a scheme of Old Age Pension,
- Adoption of certain pre-medical measures like education in health and improvement in environment hygiene besides regulation of wages and rigorous enforcement of factory laws and, finally,
- National Health Drive.
While some steps had been taken in respect of items 1 and 2 during the past 60 years, the required importance has not been given to items 3 and 4. Consequently, Adharkar’s dreams which were actually achievable and have been achieved in many countries are becoming distant dreams for Indian common people, with the present Government vying with the former one in diluting labour laws. Moreover, ESIC is blamed when it faces and suffers from the negative impact of the non-performance of the politicians on these four areas.
The root cause of all evils!
The only solution for all the problems is to compel all the political parties to make the source of funds of all these parties totally transparent. That alone will strike at the root cause of all the ills plaguing the nation in various spheres.