Left-wing extremism (LWE) – the official nomenclature for Maoist menace – has become the most convenient "excuse" for doctors to avoid serving in rural areas, putting lakhs of people in potentially life-threatening situations.
So much so that health centres in rural Jharkhand now outnumber doctors, the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (CBHI)-2013 survey has revealed.
According to the survey, there are only 539 doctors to manage 4,312-odd rural health centres and hospitals, an average of one doctor per eight rural health facilities. The national ratio is one doctor for every six health centre in rural areas.
"Maoist extremism has become an easy way of avoiding the state's job. A majority of the appointees are using extremism as an excuse," admitted joint secretary in the health department BK Mishra.
The survey was conducted in December last year and the findings made public in February this year.
18 out of Jharkhand's 24 districts are affected by Maoist violence and the health department too has been at the receiving end of the rebels' atrocities.
Though no doctor has been targeted till now by rebels, hoe department sources said that between 2003 and 2014, Maoists have destroyed 15 under-construction health centres and damaged three others in rural areas.
A senior health official who did not want to be named claimed that the "fear" of the doctors was sometimes justified.
"Only brave and dedicated souls would agree to work under the shadow of the gun 24x7," the health official added.
Jharkhand needs at least 3,000 government doctors to run its health centers. However it has only 875, of which 539 work in rural areas.
According to an HT investigation, out of the 1,477 doctors appointed by the state between the years 2008-2013 – the largest recruitment since Jharkhand's formation in 2000 – some 300 doctors cited LWE as an excuse for not joining their posts in far-flung villages.
The rest 608 cited reasons such as "further education", "inadequate opportunity to work" and "personal commitments" for turning down the appointment letters.