Scarcity of land in Delhi forces AAP govt to halve scale of flagship Mohalla Clinic project; capital to get 530 centres

Dr VS Chauhan and two of his assistants sit a little awkwardly amid a pile of medicines. They are there to treat the nearly 150 patients who visit the Delhi government-run clinic in Jangpura every day.

“The dispensary opens at 8 in the morning and shuts down at 2 pm, making available for us more than 200 diagnostic tests and over 100 medicines,” said Sandhya Choudhury, who visited the health centre for the treatment of her ailing child.

But not every neighbourhood in the national capital is as fortunate as Jangpura, because the Delhi health department has nearly halved its target of setting up these dispensaries, called Mohalla (community) Clinics. In its flagship programme launched in 2015, the city’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) promised 1,000 such medical centres across the capital for its nearly two crore residents, mainly the poor, apart from a sizeable floating population. However, scarcity of land has forced the Delhi government to scale down the number to 530, say sources in the health department.

 Scarcity of land in Delhi forces AAP govt to halve scale of flagship Mohalla Clinic project; capital to get 530 centres

Mohalla clinics are in trouble in New Delhi. Agencies

“Since Delhi is not a full-fledged state, the Delhi government does not own land the way the states do. So, the health department had to confine the project to the limited land resources the government has,” said a source in the health department on condition of anonymity.

The aim of opening these dispensaries, officially known as the Aam Aadmi Mohalla Clinics, was to provide free basic treatment, diagnosis and medication facilities in every neighbourhood of the capital. The project was seen as a turning point in Delhi’s healthcare sector.

One of the main reasons why the scheme assumed importance was because it was expected to reduce the inflow of patients to the government’s creaky hospital system. Because of the weak primary healthcare infrastructure in the capital, a majority of the patients with minor illnesses too flock to the around 37 referral hospitals and 23 polyclinics in the city.

Dr Sunil Kumar, medical superintendent of Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, a Delhi government health facility, explained the mounting pressure on the 1,500-bed institute. “On a daily basis, 250 people are admitted to the hospital through the outpatient department (OPD). From the emergency department, about 50 patients are admitted every day. On top of this, 9,000 patients come to the OPD daily. In the emergency department, about 2,000 patients are seen every day.”

The abundance of free healthcare with diagnostic facility at the neighbourhood level would have also meant that primary medical protection, which is not covered by insurance, would get taken care of by the Mohalla Clinics, as treatment in these facilities is free for everyone.

The Jangpura clinic, established in 2016, was one of the first of its kind. Renu Sharma, 40, a resident of the area, told Firstpost that she often has to visit the Mohalla Clinic in her neighbourhood and is satisfied with the service. “I grew up as a stunted child and, so, frequently suffer from various ailments. Whenever I’ve visited the clinic, I have never returned without treatment or medicines.”

Delhi government has no dearth of funds to open more Mohalla Clinics as the yearly budgets run into surplus of several thousand crores – the amount was Rs 5,900 crore in the previous budget. But, due to lack of land, the health department had to turn down demands submitted by citizens to open these dispensaries in their localities.

“We have limited our Mohalla Clinic projects to only lands owned by the Delhi Jal Board and Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, as both these bodies come under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government. We are, at present, not proceeding with the project to areas where the Delhi government has no stake on land,” said Vijender Garg, an AAP MLA and a member of the Delhi Assembly standing committee on health.

Kalkaji and Sriniwaspuri in south Delhi are two areas where Mohalla Clinics were proposed, based on public demand, but the projects could not materialise.

“Both the areas do not have a Delhi government dispensary and people have to travel long distances to avail treatment. We demanded two Mohalla Clinics but there was no land to establish them,” said Raj Kumar, an Aam Aadmi Party volunteer.

Previously, there was a provision to open such clinics in rented homes, but the government has done away with that policy, said Somnath Bharti, an AAP MLA. “The government is now determined to build only permanent institutions and not temporary ones. So, we are only focussing on the projects to be built on Delhi government land.”

Opening the first Mohalla Clinic at Peera Garhi in west Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had announced in 2015 the aim of setting up 1,000 such facilities across the city within a year. However, by the end of the 2018-19 fiscal, the number of these dispensaries was only 191.

Vijender Garg said Delhi would have 530 Mohalla Clinics within this year.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2019 19:29:53 IST