Mann govt courts controversy over publicity funds for clinics

The Punjab government is in the eye of a storm after it transferred senior IAS officer Ajoy Sharma out of the health department for reportedly refusing to sanction Rs 30 crores for publicity of  the mohalla clinics in the southern states. A report by Aayush Goel

The mohalla clinics are in the news yet again. And this time for the controversy the Punjab government has courted for splurging public funds on their publicity. The Bhagwant Mann-led AAP government is in the eye of storm after senior IAS officer Ajoy Sharma was transferred out of the health department for reportedly refusing to sanction Rs 30 crores for publicity of these clinics in southern states.

 A 1999 batch officer, Ajoy Sharma was posted as principal secretary Health and Family Welfare, and Finance Commissioner (Taxation). He was the officer behind 75 mohalla clinics that were set up in the state. He was gearing up for the inauguration of 400 such clinics on the Republic Day but was posted out overnight and had not been given any posting till the filing of this report. Vikas Partap was handed over the charge of Finance Commissioner (Taxation), while VK Meena was made in charge of the department of health.

While everybody including Ajoy Sharma, Chief Secretary Vijay Kumar Janjua and Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann have maintained a silence, sources claim that in two different meetings, Sharma was asked to allow spending of Rs 30 crore on publicity from the health budget. He however reportedly refused to sanction the amount stating that the department had already spent Rs 10 crore for setting up mohalla clinics and he would not be able to justify spending another Rs 30 crore for publicising the scheme in states like Tamil Nadu.

It is said that Ajoy stated that sanction could have been considered if it had been for Punjab as people would have benefited from this publicity but he insisted that residents of Tamil Nadu would not benefit from mohalla clinics in Punjab and refused sanction. The transfer has led to a major uproar by the opposition that is cornering Mann government for not just harassing bureaucrats for doing their job but also wasting funds of cash starved state for political benefits of AAP. 

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) asked Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to explain why his government needed Rs 30 crore to advertise mohalla clinics, for which the state was spending Rs 10 crore, if it was a ‘successful model’. Senior SAD leader Daljit Singh Cheema said on the one hand the Chief Minister was touting mohalla clinics as a success with 100000 people having benefited from them and on other they wanted to spread good word at such whooping cost. 

“What is the need to publicise them in the state and up to South India, except to further the political agenda of AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal. Mohalla clinics have failed in both Delhi and Punjab but they are not ready to accept it and are going to bleed the state dry to sell this model in other states. It is even threatening and implicating the former health secretary who refused to approve the Rs 30 crore publicity proposal”, said Cheema. He said Bhagwant Mann should realise that Punjab already had primary health centres and did not need more dispensaries in the name of mohalla clinics, instead needing good secondary and super speciality healthcare.

 The former deputy Chief Minister and SAD president Sukhbir Badal said patients were being compelled to bring syringes to get injections administered in government hospitals, but the Mann government was hell-bent on wasting Rs 30 crore on publicising “useless” mohalla clinics. “And if an officer objects to this sheer wastage, he is shunted out,” he said. The SAD has demanded the entire file on the issue in public domain.

Even Congress is up against the government on the issue. Congress MLA Sukhpal Khaira tweeted, “This is Delhi health model: Spend thrice the amount of project on publicity! Bhagwant Mann shunts out the health secretary merely because he refused to sanction Rs 30 crore for publicity of mohalla clinics! They’ve ruined our rural dispensaries for the theatrics and ego of Arvind Kejriwal.” Former Deputy Speaker Bir Devinder Singh said the “blatant plundering” of the government funds to showcase aam aadmi clinics in other states was highly outrageous and a despicable move of the health department.

 “As a matter of fact, it is nothing but a propaganda mission of AAP. Why plunder Punjab’s public treasury to showcase aam aadmi clinics in other states, why Punjab be coerced to bear propaganda expenses of AAP?” he said. The state government however insists it was a routine transfer and Ajoy will get a posting soon. 

Not just in Punjab but AAP came under scanner for hefty advertisements in Delhi also as Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena has ordered the recovery of Rs 97 crore from the party for political advertisements it allegedly published in the guise of government advertisements.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has lashed out at AAP and termed this ‘advertisement scam’. The BJP also demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should look into this. Leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly, Ramvir Singh Bidhuri said, “We see an advertisement scam here, and demand a CBI inquiry into it. We will approach the LG in this regard. The amount to be recovered from the ruling party in Delhi would rise to Rs 400 crore. AAP however alleged that the L-G had ‘no clue’ and was ‘dancing on the directions of the BJP’. “AAP has become a national party. BJP and L-G can try harder but AAP will stand tall and will not allow anyone to stop the good works being done in Delhi. L-G has no power to pass such orders. Following the directions of BJP, he is trying to create trouble for the people of Delhi and is trying to stop work”, said AAP MLA and spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj.