CHANDIGARH: Is the Punjab Government's Health Department working against Rahul Gandhi's public stance?
Five months ago, on August 26, 2018
, Rahul Gandhi was at the Royal Society of Medicine, speaking
to 200 doctors from various United Kingdom hospitals, including Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s and Imperial London: "The NHS offers free quality medical treatment at the point of delivery and is accessible to all in the UK, regardless of wealth. Congress is trying to conceptualise how a universal healthcare system similar to the NHS can be built in India...The goal of universal healthcare is something we aspire to and is something we will achieve."
Two months ago, on December 1, 2018
, Rahul Gandhi was interacting
with professionals in Udaipur: "Healthcare and education can’t be left to the private sector. This can’t be done without the government. The government will have to spend money on this, to provide access to low-cost healthcare and education.”
Now, Rahul Gandhi's lieutenant looking after the health ministry in Punjab is all out to sell the government silver.
Punjab Minister Brahm Mohindra's Health Department has now issued a public notice inviting private entities to bid to run primary healthcare facilities in the state, so far run by the government. Civil society activists are now crying hoarse, but not a single Congressmen has squeaked to save the izzat of Rahul Gandhi.
Now, the activists have consolidated themselves into a Campaign Against Privatisation of Health & Education and plan to organise a series of protests against the Punjab government's decision to privatise health services.
On February 2, 2019, these activists will be in Chandigarh's Sector 17 square, actually advocating what Rahul Gandhi advocated, but protesting against the Congress' Punjab government. They have given an open call to all public spirited individuals, employees’ bodies, activists and citizens to join the protest on February 2, Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Chandigarh administration's decision to privatise education will also be on the protest agenda of this Campaign. The Chandigarh administration has announced its intention to hand over government schools to for-profit private players.
Dr. Pyare Lal Garg, former Registrar of Baba Farid University of Health Science and now working with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, said similar attempts
were made earlier in 2011 and 2015, but failed because of public resistance.
Professor Manjit Singh, academician-politician, said the Punjab government was not just obstructing public's access to essential services, but was in clear violation of Constitutional provisions.
Political pundits said it would be interesting to see how the Amarinder Singh government's move will impact the pan-India election campaign of Rahul Gandhi. At a time when the Congress president's teams are criss-crossing the country, establishing contact with public intellectuals and civil society activists to seek advance feedback as part of the manifesto-drafting exercise, the Punjab government's move may prove to be costly.
Campaign against Privatisation of Health and Education submitted their written representation to the Chief Minister of Punjab and Minister of Health & Family Welfare Punjab on Feb 1, 2019.
"How will the Congress spin Rahul Gandhi's narrative about investing public money in health and education when its own government in Punjab is doing exactly the opposite?" participants in a meeting to discuss the ramifications of the latest move of the Punjab health department wondered.
Amulya Nidhi, National Co-Convener, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan said the Punjab government was repeating the same mistake that Karnataka did in 2008 where, under the Arogya Bandhu Scheme, 39 CHCs and PHCs were handed over to private players.
"An NRHM Evaluation Study in 2013 found that the Arogya Bandhu Scheme had failed to achieve its primary objective to improve the quality of healthcare services. Eventually, the Karnataka government was forced to withdraw the PPP move in the state," Nidhi said.
In Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan, similar moves to privatise public health services were vehemently challenged by civil society.
NGOs, Activists & public spirited individuals affiliated to different political streams at a meeting on January 30 in Chandigarh to chalk out a resistance strategy against Punjab's move to privatise health sector.
Inayat Singh Kakar of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan said the campaign will be undertaking mass mobilization at various places in Punjab and Chandigarh, and will be focussing on educational institutions, urban slums and public places to whip up public sentiment against the move to privatise essential services in health and education sectors.
In Punjab, the failure of the PPP model for ambulance services is an example of the failed model. Ambulance services in the state were currently dysfunctional to a significant extent. The PPP model will not lead to more coverage and is no guarantee for improving quantity or quality of healthcare, neither does it result in cost reduction.
In a state infamous for farmer and farm labourer suicides, privatisation of primary health could be suicidal. At least 30% of farmers' and labourers' debt is due to healthcare costs, which will only increase if public health facilities are handed to private players, activists argued.
Significantly, the number of government medical colleges in Punjab has remained stagnant in over 50 years while fees for medical education in public and private institutions are constantly increasing. This greatly compromises the availability of good quality medical professionals, contributing to poor public services in the state.
Punjab government's Public Notice inviting ‘Expression of Interest
’ simultaneously asks for submission of proposals with details such as mode of running. However, the notice is silent on crucial details such as eligibility for application, criteria and list of facilities selected for privatisation, and the fixing of rates for services.
While such a move would be disastrous from a people’s perspective, it could have far reaching consequences from an electoral point of view.
Ironically, the Congress government's move is a mirror image of the Modi government-run Chandigarh Administration's proposal to hand over the management of dispensaries on the city’s periphery to private hands.
The UT Administration has elicited the opinion of the Administrator’s Advisory Council on the issue and the matter will be discussed at a meeting of the council to be held on February 14.
In the agenda, the Administration has proposed that a few dispensaries on the UT’s periphery may be considered for being run by private agencies on the PPP mode.
Among the organisations and individuals joining hands for protesting against the move were Jan Swasthya Abhiyan Punjab, All India Students Association, Bharat Gyaan Vigyaan Samiti, Voluntary Health Association of Punjab, Students for Society (SFS), Confluence, All India Democratic Students Organisation, All India Save Education Committee, Sahit Chintan, Arpan, CPI (ML), Medical Service Centre and Lokayat; besides Prof. Manjit Singh, Dr. Pyare Lal Garg, Prof. Ritajyoti from IISER, Amartyajyoti Basu, Sukhbir, Inderjit S., Amulya Nidhi, Inayat Singh Kakar, Sandeep Kumar, Shamsher Rana, Kanwaljit Singh, Rajat Kumar, Vijay Kumar, Aman Ratia, S.S Cheema, Suchinder Pal Singh and Kuldip Chand.
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