A big ray of hope for poor cancer patients of the Malwa region, the already delayed Advanced Cancer Diagnostic, Treatment and Research Institute (ACDTRI) here, may not be fully functional for another year or so.
Supposed to start the out-patient department (OPD) by March this year, the research institute is yet to get its basic laboratory for conducting blood tests.
Known as the old-era radiotherapy technique, Cobalt, is the only facility, which has been installed at the institute after more than three years of the foundation stone laid by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in October 2011 at the industrial growth centre here.
There have been no signs of modern machinery such as Liner Accelerator and supportive equipment. According to sources, the delay in the payment for the equipment and technical glitches in importing expensive machines from foreign countries have been delaying the project.
Though officials have been claiming that the OPD will be started soon in the first phase without waiting for a fully furnished institute, yet such an OPD without proper mechanical support will be of little use for cancer patients.
The institute is yet to hire cancer specialists and other supportive staff. The state has been already running short of cancer specialists in the public sector. Recently, applications invited for key posts in the institute had received very cold response.
The delay in the appointment of the vice-chancellor of the Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS) has been further creating administrative hurdles in the functioning of the project. The institute is dependent on the university for administrative functioning.
Even the personal interest shown by Punjab chief minister in this project could not accelerate the progress of work.
Interestingly, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had laid the foundation stone of Max Super specialty here in 2009. Bigger than ACDTRI, the Rs 100-crore project was constructed within two years by Max and the chief minister himself inaugurated it in September 2011.
However, poor cancer patients have remained away from Max hospital due to its high treatment cost. However, this hospital was constructed on the government land and entitled to pay only 5% of the gross revenue to the Punjab government.
While laying the foundation stone of the building, the chief minister had promised treatment at the rates prevailing in PGI of Chandigarh.
Going by the promises, ACDTRI, after becoming functional, will give a tough competition to Max hospital as far as cancer treatment is concerned. However, the delay in the completion of the project has been hurting hopes of poor cancer patients.
It should be noted that cancer patients from Malwa travel to Bikaner in Rajsthan via a train known as cancer train in the hope of cheap cancer treatment.
In December 2013, principal secretary of health Vini Mahajan had said that the OPD at the centre would start functioning by March 2014. When asked about the delay in the start of the institute, she only said, "We are going to start OPD very soon."