It belies the claims of Punjab health minister Surjit Kumar Jyani about the mass distribution of these pairs of spectacles after eyesight examination in all districts. The pairs are free of cost under the National Programme for the Control of Blindness (NPCB), to which the Centre contributes 70%. The state health department had a target of examining 1.33 lakh children in the academic session 2015-16.
Of almost 1 lakh children screened by last December, more than 30,000 had poor eyesight but only 16,000-odd received the free corrective aid. Another 3,500 cases of weak vision came to light in January.
Sources observing the programme said that since last November, the state government had not sanctioned the civil surgeons in all 22 districts any money for the pairs of spectacles.
The NPCB is on in the state since the early 1980s. State programme officer Dr Rakesh Gupta blamed the delay in delivery on the decision to do it from one point instead of from each district, “to reduce cost and get a better quality of eyeglasses”.
“The decision came last October, in a meeting where principal secretary for health Vini Mahajan and other senior officers observed the price difference in glasses across districts and how it was making it difficult to manage expenses,” said Dr Gupta, adding: “All identified children will be covered within this week.”
A pair of spectacles now costs less than Rs 150. The price varied between Rs 150 and Rs 250 earlier in different districts.
The highest number of poor-vision cases were detected in Tarn Taran (nearly 3,900), followed by Patiala (nearly 3,600) and Amritsar (nearly 2,900).