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Govt fails to retain doctors in hills

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By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 25 Apr: When the Trivendra Singh Rawat led BJP Government took over the reins of the state two years ago, sincere and serious efforts were made by the new government to improve health services, particularly in the hills. The health and medical services were in very poor condition then.  A very high number of doctors’ posts were vacant in the hills, the 108 Ambulance service was in disarray and the majority of vehicles being used in the ambulance service were not fit to run. The new government initiated a number of steps to improve government health and medical services in the state, particularly in the hills. The steps included the decision to procure new vehicles for the 108 EMRI ambulance service, initiate appointment and deployment of doctors and paramedical staff in the hills. In addition, perhaps for the first time ever, a large number of senior doctors were posted to the hills despite huge resistance from them and all kinds of political recommendations under various pretexts.
However, most of the efforts made during the first year of the BJP Government have now gone in vain. According to sources in the state medical and health department, at least a third of senior doctors posted in the hills during the first year of the BJP rule have managed to return to postings at convenient locations. Many who have not been able to secure their posting back in the plains, are now on long leave while around 250 of the doctors posted in the hills continue to remain ‘absent’. Secondly, the government has also failed to significantly add to the total number of sanctioned posts in the hills despite the fact that the current sanctioned strength of doctors’ posts is very low when compared to the requirements on the ground. Ironically, the government has failed to fill even this basic strength of posts in the hills.
District Pauri, for example, is the home district of many VVIPs including that of Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. Yet, against a total sanctioned strength of 365 doctors in Pauri district, 173 posts are currently reported to be lying vacant. In Pauri, the government could barely manage to post just 4 doctors on contractual basis, while it managed to post a mere 32 doctors on a bond agreement basis during the past one year. It is worth pointing out here that Pauri district has comparatively better medical infrastructure with respect to other hill districts. It has a medical college in Srinagar, and a base hospital, but patients with even common heart and renal ailments have to be routinely referred to Dehradun or AIIMS, Rishikesh, because good cardiac and nephrology specialists are not posted even in the medical college hospital. The BJP government had initially made efforts to hand over the management of the medical college and the associated hospital to the Army, but this has not worked out so far.
Uttarkashi is a border district with some very remote and tough locations. Yet, the total sanctioned strength of government doctors in this district is just 153 and, out of this, 58 posts remain unfilled. The government failed to post even a single doctor on contractual basis during the past one year in this district. Chamoli has a total sanctioned strength of 171, of which 85 posts currently remain vacant. A large number of specialists posted earlier in this district have managed to return to convenient locations in less than a year of their posting to Uttarkashi district.
Almora is the home district of BJP State President Ajay Bhatt, but the situation is not much different here, either. Of a total sanctioned strength of 276 in the district, 100 posts remain vacant as of now! In Nainital, 110 out of a total number of 271 sanctioned posts of doctors remain vacant. In Tehri, 98 out of 226 sanctioned posts remain vacant presently. Pithoragarh, with many remote and difficult areas has a total sanctioned of 181 and, of this number, 66 posts remain vacant! In Rudraprayag, 25 out of 94 sanctioned posts are vacant. Bageshwar has a total sanctioned strength of 102 posts of which 37 remain vacant. Of course, it is not that the situation is much better in Dehradun, Haridwar or US Nagar districts, but at least the patients have better access to private medical facilities.
It may be recalled that while establishing medical colleges in the state, the government had made it mandatory for the medical students to be posted in the hills initially for the bond period. However, the medical students dodge this and so far there are just 108 doctors posted on bond in the entire state, of which there are less than a hundred actually posted in the hills. Clearly, the government has failed to force them to serve the bond period in the hills after completing their highly subsidised medical education.