Constitutionally, India is supposed to provide free health services to every citizen, but government medical facilities are so inadequate, insufficient and poor that 70% urban households prefer to visit private sources for medical purposes. It is to be understood that it is the poor who are the biggest sufferers of this inadequacy.
It is in this context that the AAP government, with a promise to provide quality and equitable medical services to each and all, increased the health budget by 45% after taking power in 2015. It devised a three-tier health care system with big hospitals at the top of the pyramid and mohalla clinics at the bottom, poly clinics in the middle. The idea was to provide medical facilities at the doorstep of citizens in neighbourhoods and unburden big hospitals. But this fell victim to dirty politics. The situation became so grim that AAP MLAs had to go to the Lieutenant Governor's office on Wednesday and sit there for seven hours to make him to listen to their requests to clear mohalla clinic files.
Mohalla clinics are the most innovative and affordable idea invented by the AAP government. According to the Delhi government, each mohalla clinic has a built-up area of about 50-60 sq. metres, a semi-permanent structure with a doctor, nurse, pharmacist and laboratory technician where patients do not have to pay any consultation fees for doctors and medicines are provided free of cost. More than 200 kinds of tests are also done for free. Anyone can walk in. The idea is that for a routine checkup, patients don't have to visit hospitals and moreover, doctors are available at the walking distance.
This popularity became its biggest enemy.
Ajay Maken, the president of the Delhi unit of the Congress, made a frivolous complaint alleging misappropriation of funds which was most promptly received by the Vigilance Department that directly reports to the Lieutenant Governor; files related to mohalla clinics were most "urgently" seized and construction work stopped. This happened last year in October. Najeeb Jung was the Lieutenant Governor then. Since mohalla clinics caught the imagination of the people instantly and became very popular, it made the BJP and the Congress very uncomfortable. Therefore, the story of mohalla clinics being involved in scams was concocted and an investigation was thus "justified". The Vigilance Department was roped in and the construction of clinics was stopped; the land which was to be made available by the DDA was taken back and the scheme of making 1,000 clinics by the end of 2017 came to a standstill.
This episode established two things. One, the game of conspiracy is played by the BJP and the Congress in tandem. Remember that Ajay Maken had also gone to court complaining about the AAP government spending on advertisements. On his complaint, a three-member committee of the central government erroneously slapped a fine of Rs 97 crore on AAP which of course could not stand scrutiny in court. One can ask why the local Congress leadership is playing this game. The answer is simple. Before AAP jumped into electoral politics, Delhi was a bi-polar politic played between the BJP and the Congress. AAP's entry has created an existential crisis for the Congress; after ruling the national capital for 15 years, it was reduced to 8 seats in 2013 and in 2015, it could not open its account. The Congress knows that as long as AAP is strong in Delhi, it will be difficult for to regain its position. So it has connived with the BJP to discredit AAP.
The overwhelming demand for mohalla clinics from every constituency created a situation in which MLAs were left with no option but to directly knock on the door of the LG's office, requesting him help expedite the files. It was wrongly construed as a kind of dharna or a siege by the people's representatives of the LG's house. The LG is the guardian of the government. The MLAs are the people's representatives. And if MLAs feel aggrieved, it is the duty of the LG to not only to listen to their woes but to find an answer.
On Wednesday, Mr Baijal could spare only 3 minutes, 27 seconds for 44 MLAs. He left the meeting abruptly while the MLAs kept requesting they be heard properly and the files for the clinics be released so that construction can begin. Finally, after seven hours, it was decided that the LG would meet Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The meeting did happen the very next day and it was decided that by Tuesday next week, the LG would take a positive decision. Let me assure readers that the frivolous charges of wrongdoings in the scheme have no basis - it is the result of conspiratorial minds. Let's hope for the best. Let's hope the LG's decision brings happiness and power to the people of Delhi.
(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)
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