Panel slams Gujarat's thrust on privatisation in health

Commission criticises Gujarat govt's thrust on privatisation in public health sector

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The inquiry commission, which probed fatal fire incidents at two private Covid-19 designated hospitals in Ahmedabad and Rajkot last year, has criticised the state government's impetus on outsourcing works related to public health to private hands. In its recommendation, the commission has remarked that "the concept of privatisation has to be restricted and made applicable only in sectors, which may be properly described as commercial."

The recommendation, attached with the finding of retired justice D A Mehta commission, was tabled in Gujarat Assembly on Tuesday.  "The provisions of The Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2013 as well as the rule framed thereunder, and the regulations, are primarily supposed to be implemented through the mode of outsourcing. The concept of privatization has to be restricted and made applicable only in sectors, which may be properly described as commercial. One can understand that it is not the business of the government to be in business and commerce. A government is not meant for conducting business or trading in goods," reads the recommendation, while adding "However, this concept of not being in business cannot be stretched to shirk its responsibility of governing the state by ensuring the health and wellbeing of the public at large."

The commission has stated that there are "serious discrepancies/defects in so far as the functioning of the state government is concerned." It says that a holistic approach is required to avoid fire incidents which occurred in Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Bharuch. The recommendation notes that major concern lies with the state government's policy of outsourcing works as serious safety of people. Last year, eight Covid-19 patients were killed at Shrey Hospital fire while five died at Rajkot's Uday Shivanand hospital in a similar incident. Both were Covid-19 designated hospitals.

"The state government needs to understand that in every sphere of governance outsourcing of employees is not only detrimental to an effective and efficient government, but it creates a situation, a culture which yields negative results by way of outright poor performance," reads the report. It says that public health being primarily a state subject, the government should deal with it "conscientiously and not on the basis of revenue impact."

"The state government needs to appreciate that every decision cannot be formed and arrived at by applying the touchstone of revenue. Only the cost aspect cannot be the sole consideration before arriving at a decision, formulating a policy. The finance department cannot be permitted to assume a larger-than-life role in a government. The cardinal principle that a government is nothing else but a decision making body which acts collectively, cannot be lost sight of," the report says.  

The report recommends that "The state government has to realize that it is required to govern the state, i.e govern the state effectively, and not make a show of governing. The welfare of the entire population of the state has to be paramount consideration. The approach cannot be contrary to first of all considering the revenue impact and then modulating the requirement of the people of the state."

It also highlights how the fire department is suffering from severe staff crunch due to "faulty and defective policy of recruitment adopted by the state government."  It says, "since at least 15 years or more, the state government, in its misguided zeal to save revenue, has virtually put a full stop to recruit people despite the posts falling vacant due to superannuation or other reasons. As a result the vacancies have kept on increasing year after year."

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