Govt’s highway ambulances ‘ lost in transit’
By Maneesh Pandey in New Delhi
INDIAN roads witness the highest number of fatal accidents in the world. Yet no agency has bothered to keep track of more than 1,100 ambulances and cranes given by the Centre to various states over the last decade for facilitating emergency care in precisely such cases.
It was the Union ministry of road transport and highways that had been handing over these vehicles — 611 ambulances and 502 cranes — to state transport departments as well as local NGOs since 2001. The allocation took place under the National Highway Accident Relief Service Scheme.
Inexplicably, the ministry decided to conduct a stocktaking exercise more than 10 years after the distribution of the emergency mobile units got underway. A meeting was called in the Capital on May 24 to discuss the issue threadbare.
Among the states and Union Territories present were Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Assam, Manipur, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Barring Punjab, Haryana and Karnataka, the rest were clueless about the whereabouts of the vehicles. A senior official of the Union ministry said: “ We were shocked when the representatives were unable to furnish information about the ambulances and cranes even as they conceded that the vehicles had reached their states.” Most states did not come prepared with the actual status and numbers of the ambulances and cranes operating in their jurisdiction despite the letter about the agenda of the meeting being sent to them on April 30.
The central officials sniffed a scam and, in what seemed to be a knee- jerk reaction, asked all the states to present a complete status report in the near future.
A senior Union ministry official said allegations had been made earlier, too, that the ambulances and cranes were “ actually deployed for the thriving private healthcare and construction sectors”. The official disclosed: “ An exhaustive questionnaire has been sent to the states for answers on the operational status of the fleet and its current location. Andhra Pradesh was the most prompt in responding and did so on Wednesday.” But this impels the question what the Union ministry itself was doing since 2001. “ No one bothered to check the allocation and monitor the operational status of the vehicles all this while. Even we initiated the process only because a fresh allocation of ambulances is being proposed in the 12th fiveyear plan,” the official admitted.
If the vehicles remain untraced, the ministry would find it hard to justify the cost incurred in the entire project. An ambulance costs anything between ` 6 lakh and ` 7.5 lakh. The price of a crane is roughly ` 22 lakh. The Union road ministry spent nearly ` 14 crore for 70 advanced ambulances in just the last two years.
For their part, the states present at the meeting unanimously blamed the Union ministry for “ not keeping them in the loop while distributing the emergency mobile units”. Most of them were critical of the Centre for establishing a labyrinthine distribution network.
One of the state government’s officials said: “ While the local police are tasked with the enforcement, the state’s health departments and NGOs get possession of the ambulances, and the allocation is made by the central ministry. Furthermore, the latter never cared to inform us about each ambulance and crane being distributed.
We are now going back to locate where the vehicles actually are.”
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Sunday, June 3, 2012