The display of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal's pictures on partly central-funded ambulances in the state has drawn the ire of the Centre, which has stopped funds to the state on this account.
In its recent tranche of central funds released to Punjab under its flagship National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scheme, the union health ministry has not included the amount under a scheme for providing free referral transport system.
Sources say the sealing of central funds to Punjab follows repeated complaints to the ministry of health and family welfare on the dilution of NRHM guidelines by the state on ensuring national branding of the National Ambulance Service (NAS) and uniformity in the display on ambulances.
They said all ambulances funded by the Centre in Punjab display photographs of CM Parkash Singh Badal.
With the Lok Sabha elections not far away, the action is being seen as a bid to prevent UPA's flagship programmes from being 'hijacked' by states.
Union minister of state for health Santosh Chaudhary, who is a Congress MP from Hoshiarpur (Punjab), also raised objections to the display of Badal's photos on '108' ambulances funded by Centre.
A defiant Punjab has refused to remove the CM's pictures, saying that it will continue to do so as the state government is providing a majority of the funds.
"We will not remove pictures of CM Badal displayed on the ambulances. If the central government had objections to the display of his pictures, it should have raised objections earlier. Why now?" Punjab health minister Madan Mohan Mittal told PTI, adding that the state provides 80% of the funds and the Centre only 20%.
The union health ministry has been warning the state in recent interactions of stopping funds under the scheme unless it conforms to central guidelines issued for the referral transport system provided under NRHM.
"We have been asking states to follow the ministry guidelines in this regard to ensure national branding of the National Ambulance Service (NAS) and uniformity in the display on ambulances supported by central funds," said Manoj Jhalani, joint secretary in the union health ministry. He said funds had been halted till states conformed to guidelines.
Punjab is set to lose more than Rs 10 crore in central funds under the scheme in the next three years in case the Centre totally discontinues its funding to ambulances.
"We will lose around Rs 3.5 crore per year of if all central funds are stopped under this scheme," a Punjab health official said.