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Guards take railway for a ride
By Nilika de Silva
Railway guards and train crew are earning thousands of rupees on overtime payments each year, while the Department is reportedly losing millions.

It is learnt that these guards and train crew are being paid for 500 to 600 hours of overtime per month, in addition to batta and other extra allowances, on the strength of age old regulations and misinterpretations of their content.

While a railway guard's basic salary is about Rs. 8,895 per month, overtime (OT) and batta earned swells it to over Rs. 53,000. Circulars have been misinterpreted continuously since 1992 to make payments, in excess of what is due. Two circulars dated 23/01/1992 and 30/09/1992 clearly show that the intervals between two turns of a guard's duty hours have been badly defined, causing the state to pay even for time the worker is not entitled to.

If the interval between two turns of duty is less than nine hours payment is calculated on the mileage up and down, while if the interval is more than nine hours the guard is entitled to batta..

The irony is that a Cabinet decision is about to legalise this anomaly, while over a period of ten years the country has lost millions of rupees as a result.

Train No. 23 plying from Colombo Fort to Hatton has the train crew comprising a driver, his assistant, headguard and underguard changing three times. The first crew works the train to Kandy and gives over in order to earn batta while another crew takes over and works the train to Nawalapitiya from where the next crew takes over till Hatton.

Train No. 183/526 which operates from Colombo to Rambukkana takes 5 1/2 hours for the journey. At Polgahawela the guards change.

Since rest room facilities for the night are available at Rambukkana the same crew can operate the train on the return journey. However batta payments are made to the two crews.

The GMR and other railway officials trot out the excuse that there is a shortage of guards.

However, on the Chilaw line, 12 guards are deployed on the Bangadeniya and Muthukumari trains and they earn about Rs. 255,000 a month as overtime. This clearly is an indication of the wastage involved.

The Fort-Chilaw train no. 409 is scheduled to complete the run in less than three hours. However, a separate crew is used for the return journey when the same crew can be deployed.

With proper deployment of guards the Department can save on the payment of batta and overtime in using extra guards.

Even the duty roster of guards is said to be made with trade unionists having a hand in it.

While the cadre of guards for the entire country is 642, the numbers on roll at present are about 400 with 229 guards stationed at Maradana.

Crucial TULF meeting today
By Sinniah Gurunathan
The decision making working committee of the TULF will hold a crucial meeting in Colombo today amidst disputes over the party leadership and the nomination of a national list MP to succeed party leader M. Sivasithamparam who died recently.

K.Thurairatnasingham, who has reportedly being given the green light by the LTTE is likely to be appointed as an MP, though senior Vice President V. Anandasangaree is known to have preferred another candidate from Jaffna. Mr.Thurairatnasingham from Trincomalee was preferred by the LTTE because it wants more representation from the Trincomalee district.

According to Mr. Anandasangaree who visited Kilinochchi recently and had talks with LTTE leaders, Trincomalee district has been under represented by the Tamil community after the Seruwila electorate was created for the Sinhalese and the multi member Muttur constituency became a single member electorate depriving Tamils of their representation.

Mr. Anandasangaree is tipped to be elected as party leader today though a section of the party was known to have backed Batticaloa district leader Joseph Pararajasingham for the top post.

Hearty incentive for cardiologists
Sri Lanka's top cardiologists have received a letter from the Nawaloka Hospital offering them a 'special payment' of Rs. 10,000 for each case of open heart surgery referred to the resident consultant cardiothoracic surgeon of the hospital.

The hospital management in the letter to the cardiologists said the special payment was being made to maintain goodwill but the letter has set off a major controversy over what is seen as unethical inducements.

Several leading cardiologists who were reportedly offended by the letter brought the matter to the notice of the Sri Lanka Medical Council- the official body responsible for maintaining ethics in the medical profession.

In response the SLMC has written to professional medical associations alerting them to the danger of a serious violation of ethical values arising from the matter. The SLMC has reportedly said it would consider serious action if official complaints were made to it regarding violations of ethics.

An ethics committee member of a medical association told The Sunday Times the apparent inducement posed the threat of a serious danger to the time honoured values of doctor-patient relationship.

He said the special payment might be standard business practice but it ran clearly against medical ethics.

He said the professional associations were also disturbed that the situation provided a temptation for consultants to send a patient for open heart surgery even in cases where it was not essential. Eventually the special payment of Rs. 10,000 would be put on the total bill of the patient, he claimed.

The new controversy has arisen amidst moves by patients rights groups and others to restore the welfare of the patient as the centerpiece of healthcare and medical services. A spokesman for the patients rights group said the system today was to a large extent dragging the medical profession into a business.

The Nawaloka Hospital's cardiac unit manager P. Withanage, contacted by The Sunday Times issued the following statement:

"The letter seems to have been misunderstood and if it has caused pain of mind to any professional it is very much regretted. We would like to clarify as follows;

"It is a professional charge paid for looking after patients while under the care of cardiac surgeon and cardiac anaesthetist in the intensive care unit after surgery for about 14 days.

"This is paid by the hospital share of the package and does not get charged to the patient.

"It is for the welfare of the patient. Since cardiac surgery is a package, the Doctors' charges are paid in fixed amounts to 5 to 6 professionals who see the patients.

"The amount referred to in the letter is one such fixed amount".

Drug supplies blocked as lifts grind to a halt
The breakdown of the lifts at the Medical Supplies Division (MSD) has brought to a halt all supplies and issue of drugs to hospitals and other health institutions since last Friday, MSD sources said.

Two lifts that operate at the MSD, one for regular supplies and another used for items in bulk, have ceased to operate bringing to a halt the issue of drugs to many health institutions.

For nearly a month, the small lift at the MSD which operates mainly to the first and second floors, has been out of order restricting the quantity of stocks issued to health institutions daily.

With the first and second floors housing 12 store sections, fifty percent of the drugs issued is transported in this lift. Many if not all supplies to health institution are stored on the first and second floors, The Sunday Times learns.

Since the breakdown, a second lift, which is larger in size and used to carry only items in bulk was being used. However, this lift too broke down last Thursday bringing all issue of supplies and even receiving of drugs to a complete halt.

According to MSD sources, the large lift makes only ten trips per day bringing in and taking out drug stocks in bulk. Since its breakdown on Thursday, stocks of drugs to be issued have been held back.

Meanwhile, the import of an anti-venom serum from India by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) has allegedly stopped due to the closure of several companies there owing to an ongoing case.

However, SPC Managing Director Prof. K. Kamalgoda explained that though some companies had to phase out their production due to cases filed against them for not adhering to certain legal requirements, the company exporting the serum to Sri Lanka has confirmed that it can continue supply.

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