The West Bengal assembly has passed a bill for a three-year diploma course in medicine through which it hopes to bridge the shortage of doctors in villages.
But the move has been roundly criticised by opposition parties and even members of the ruling Left Front who say it will leave villagers at the mercy of semi-quacks.
The Rural Health Regulatory Authority Bill 2009, passed on Dec. 16, provides for the new diploma course which will churn out health practitioners authorised to treat specified minor ailments, prescribe medicines and issue death certificates in villages. They cannot administer injections or perform surgery.
“The sole intention of the government behind framing the bill is to tide over the manpower crisis in the rural health care system. MBBS doctors often refuse to go to the villages and stay there. We want to send these diploma-holders to villages to treat people there,” says state Health Minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, a prominent leader of LF major, the CPI(M).
But several partners in the state’s ruling Left Front are peeved over what they call CPI(M)’s high-handedness and the first instance of a unanimous decision of the Left Front committee being disregarded by the government. Left Front allies Forward Bloc, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and Communist Party of India (CPI) had expressed their reservations about the bill in a closed-door meeting of the ruling combine.
“It was decided in the Left Front meeting that the bill would be sent to the assembly’s select committee for review as intensive discussions were needed on it. This bill will create two grades of doctors - those fully-qualified for the cities and those half-qualified for rural Bengal.
“The bill was unilaterally placed by the CPI(M) and passed in the assembly. It is simply against the principles of the Left Front. The CPI(M) cannot do whatever they want to do. They should follow the rules and principles of the Left Front,” Naren Chatterjee, senior leader of the Forward Bloc, told IANS.
Senior RSP leader Manoj Bhattacharya echoed Mr. Chatterjee.
“More discussions were needed on the bill. After it was decided in the meeting of the Left Front that the bill would be sent to the select committee, how did the bill get passed in the assembly? It is simply against the principles of the Left Front,” Mr. Bhattacharya told IANS.
“I would ask Left Front chairman (Biman Bose) how it happened after it was decided in the Left Front meeting that the bill would go to the select committee,” said Manju Majumdar, West Bengal state secretary of the CPI.
Dr. Mishra claimed he was unaware of the LF committee’s decision, taken hours before the bill was to be tabled in the assembly.
“The bill will put villagers at the mercy of semi-quacks. It will divide the urban and rural people in terms of quality of health services. It will create unrest in rural Bengal,” state Congress legislative party leader Manas Bhuinya, himself a doctor, told IANS.