Arvind Kejriwal Friday launched 400 'Aam Aadmi' clinics in Amritsar, but some of the controversies surrounding these mohalla clinics have snowballed into major political issues.
Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal Friday launched 400 “Aam Aadmi clinics” in Amritsar, claiming to have met one of the several ‘guarantees’ he had given in Punjab during his election campaign in the state.
Accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, Kejriwal said the “Aam Aadmi” (common man) clinics in Punjab, unlike the ones in Delhi, had opened in record time and this had been possible because there was no constant interference of the central government in the functioning of the government.
“In Delhi, it took five years to open 500 Mohalla clinics, but here in Punjab it has barely taken 10 months,” said Kejriwal.
He said the first set of 100 Mohalla clinics were opened in Punjab in August last year and more than 10 lakh people had availed OPD services in those Mohalla clinics.
While Kejriwal and Mann inaugurated one new clinic in Amritsar, AAP MLAs across the state inaugurated the rest Friday.
However, even before the formal opening today, the Aam Aadmi clinics, or “mohalla” clinics as these are commonly called, have become mired into several controversies, some of which have snowballed into major political issues. Here is a lowdown on the top five controversies surrounding the opening of these clinics:
Old wine in new bottle
While the mohalla clinics that had been opened in August last year were started in the existing sewa kendra buildings, supplementing the already-existing government health facilities, the 400 Mohalla clinics launched yesterday were opened in the already existing and running primary health centres (PHCs) and health sub centres across Punjab.
“The fact is that already existing government clinics, including some of which are totally dilapidated, have been given a cosmetic make-over at inflated rates. Can a little bit of wall paint, false ceiling and floor tiling provide better health facilities?” questioned former minister and Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia addressing a press conference.
Sukhpal Singh Khaira, president of the All India Kissan Congress and Bholath MLA, had tweeted earlier this week: “The so-called Mohalla clinics are nothing but old wine in a new bottle because old government buildings like sewa-kendras or rural dispensaries are being used to house them, same medical staff, same medicines etc. This money could have been spent to strengthen our existing health care.”
Shiromani Akali Dal president and former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal in his tweet said “repainting PHCs at inflated costs of Rs 20-25 lakh each and renaming them Aam Aadmi clinics along with your photo won’t fool anyone. You are destroying Punjab’s health sector with such gimmicks. Punjabis will never forgive you for failing to upgrade secondary healthcare.”
Director of health services in the department of health and family welfare Dr Ranjit Singh told ThePrint that although the 400 new mohalla clinics have been opened in existing buildings, the original facilities provided by the PHCs etc will continue as it is along with the additional benefit of a mohalla clinic being there.
He explained the big difference between PHC and the mohalla clinic is that every facility in a mohalla clinic, including OPD services, testing and medicines, are totally free of cost. “Also, the staff working under the mohalla clinic are dedicated entirely to the patients coming there. These doctors will not be put on any other duty,” he said.
He added that the government had not recruited fresh doctors or pharmacists for the mahila (women) clinics and these staff had been drawn either from the health department or those working under the rural development and panchayat department. “However, we have recruited fresh clinical assistants for the mohalla clinics,” he added.
Bid to misuse funds for advertising:
One of the most-talked about controversies that broke out in the run up to the opening of these clinics was the sudden shifting out of state health secretary Ajoy Sharma virtually on the eve of the launch event.
A senior IAS officer, Sharma, was transferred overnight following a meeting during which he, say sources, reportedly refused to use Rs 30 crore from funds of the health department for advertisements of these mohalla clinics in states other than Punjab.
The Mann government received a lot of flak over the move.
BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra, in a tweet, said “If wasting public money is an art, then AAP is the progenitor of such an art form.”
Congress MLA from Abohar, Sandeep Jakhar, tweeted “At least someone has a spine…30 crores just for publicity…Imagine all that can be done for the hospitals with that money…If only there were more officers who would look after the interests of the state. Salute to Mr Ajoy Sharma.”
Addressing a press conference Friday, Majithia warned the new health secretary V.K. Meena that in case he spends Rs 30 crore on advertisements outside Punjab, he will be held accountable for wasting public money.
Despite all the criticism, the state government chose to remain mum over the transfer issue.
Closure of rural dispensaries
Doctors working under the department of rural development have alleged that they have been asked to shut down their clinics in the villages and shift to mohalla clinics.
Talking to ThePrint, Rural Medical Officers Association president Dr Deepinder Bhasin said that rural dispensaries were catering to about 10,000 people across villages and are within a reach of 1-5 km. “However, the mohalla clinics cater to over 25,000 people and are at a distance of 10 to 15 km. By shutting down the rural clinics which have been running for the past 30-40 years, the government has, in fact, done a disservice to people in rural areas who have been visiting these clinics regularly,” he explained.
Dr Aslam Parvez, state president of the Rural Medical Services Association, told ThePrint that the AAP government seemed to be working on the premise that everybody in Punjab has a vehicle on which patients can be brought to mohalla clinics even if these are very far. “But this experiment is not going to work. Shutting down rural dispensaries by shifting their doctors and staff is a regressive step,” he added.
BJP spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill tweeted, “AAP to open 500 Aam Aadmi clinics in Punjab while rural dispensaries are being dismantled by the Mann Govt.”
Dr Ranjit Singh, however, said the move to shift rural development and panchayat doctors to the health department was part of an ongoing rationalisation process. In the rural areas, doctors of only non-functional dispensaries were relocated.
Sacred names removed
The Shiromani Akali Dal pointed out that at least five satellite hospitals, named after the “panj pyare“ of Guru Gobind Singh, the last Guru of the Sikhs, had been converted into mohalla clinics and, in the process, had their names removed from the sign boards. The party said the Mann government had committed sacrilege in doing so.
“Can any Sikh impose his own photo or party’s name on images of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji or his beloved ones, panj pyare? Mann has done just that on 5 satellite hospitals named after 5 pyare during the tricentenary of birth of Khalsa in 1999 by Parkash S. Badal government,” tweeted SAD president Sukhbir Badal Friday.
Later in the day, addressing a press conference Majithia pointed out that the government had rectified the mohalla clinic sign boards in these five hospitals by adding back the name of the “panj pyare”, but had not removed the picture of the chief minister on these boards.
Party publicity through name
The latest controversy to hit the opening of these clinics is naming it after a political party.
In a press note Friday, Khaira asked Mann to change the name of the clinics to “government clinics” from Aam Aadmi clinics.
He pointed out that the buildings housing these clinics displayed the name Aam Aadmi with the photograph of the chief minister. “Whether these clinics are really serving any medical benefits to people is not sure, but they are certainly promoting the AAP,” he observed, adding that these clinics look more like AAP offices than health facilities.
Khaira recalled how the picture of former CM Parkash Singh Badal was removed from government-run ambulances and former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s from the national highways in 2004.