Punjab’s fixation with Badal photo holds up grant for ambulances

  • Navneet Sharma, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jul 22, 2015 16:04 IST

In what may anger the Akalis, the Centre has not approved the Punjab government’s request for financial grant of Rs 12.55 crore for ‘108’ ambulances operated under the National Health Mission (NHM) due to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s photos on them.

The union health and family welfare ministry, while communicating to the Badal government its approval for the Rs 740-crore state plan for 2015-16 under the NHM on July 17, has kept pending the state government’s request for the replacement and refurbishment of ambulances, besides the operational cost of the 240-strong fleet of the free referral transport service, under the ‘108’ National Ambulance Service.

While the NHM has prescribed a colour code, including design and logo, for the National Ambulance Service, emergency ambulances in Punjab have pictures of the chief minister on them. The photos, which do not conform to the programme guidelines, have not gone down well with the Centre.

“No budget has been sanctioned for ambulances. Approval has been kept pending. The state has to comply with the guidelines of the Government of India to seek support for ambulances,” sources told HT, citing the communication.

Sticking point since UPA tenure

The CM’s pictures have been a sticking point between the Centre and the state government since 2012-13 when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had stopped the release of funds to the state for ambulances.

The Centre had stopped the funds after complaints were received regarding the non-compliance of the programme norms by the state, stating that action was needed to ensure national branding of NAS and uniformity in display on ambulances. Both the SAD and the BJP, alliance partners in the state government, had then slammed the ruling Congress for stopping funds, refusing to remove the photos.

The state government was hopeful of getting funds for ambulances this time after a change in the government at the Centre as the Shiromani Akali Dal is a member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). However, the new dispensation in the health ministry has also stuck to the line, “uniformity and national branding”, taken by the previous government.

‘Political decision, govt will decide’

The ministry had made known its stand to health officials of the state during discussions on the state programme implementation plan in May, but the state government appears to be in no mood to remove the pictures. “It is a political decision. The government will decide,” said a state official.

The Punjab government had sought the money for the replacement of 12 ambulances that have clocked 2.5 lakh km, refurbishment of 78 ambulances and Rs 8 crore towards operational cost of its fleet at the rate of Rs 1.37 lakh per ambulance per month. In the last three years, the state has lost central grant amounting to Rs 23 crore due to its insistence on having the CM’s photo on ambulances.

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