Budget 2017 promises an AIIMS for Gujarat but a rebuilt hospital in earthquake-hit Bhuj, originally intended to become AIIMS-West, ended up as a teaching hospital for an Adani-run medical college
The games that politicians play! This is the story of Gujarat’s long pending All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), graciously announced in this year’s Union Budget.
The fact is that if BJP patriarch and first NDA Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had his way, Gujarat would have got the first AIIMS outside Delhi—in Kutch at least a decade and a half ago. Ironically, it was the present PM Narendra Modi, the state’s chief minister at the time, who did everything to stall the project.
On January 26, 2001 a high intensity earthquake had devastated Kutch region of Gujarat bordering Pakistan, reducing it to rubble with thousands perishing in one of the worst human tragedies witnessed in India. Among the buildings destroyed was the government hospital in the district headquarter of Bhuj, where over 200 doctors, para medical staff and others were buried alive by falling debris.
The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spent two days in Kutch to oversee relief and rehabilitation work. He also laid the foundation stone of a new hospital to replace the old GK General Hospital. It was his desire that the rebuilt GK General Hospital be a state-of-the-art medical facility and he foresaw it as one of the best in the entire western part of the country. Vajpayee sanctioned ₹100 crore from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund for the purpose and made it known that more would be forthcoming, if needed.
Two women sit on the slabs which formed the roof the devastated GK General Hospital in Bhuj, in the aftermath of the Gujarat earthquake on Republic Day, 2001
Funds would not be a constraint, he had assured the then Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel and was true to his word. More than ₹100 crore was eventually spent on the hospital.
The hospital was designed after studying those in earthquake prone zones in China, USA and Japan and incorporated international specifications for structural safety. The 300-bed hospital had 15 wards and three operation theatres, besides the latest equipment and appliances when operationalised.
Vajpayee took personal interest in the construction of the Bhuj hospital and had even asked a senior Gujarat BJP leader to send him a confidential progress report regularly. The then Prime Minister, who was keen to set up four AIIMS in four regions of the country, wanted the Bhuj facility to be the AIIMS-West.
However, Keshubhai had been replaced by Narendra Modi as chief minister by the time the hospital was inaugurated in January 2004 by Vajpayee.
The Gujarat AIIMS failed to come up and the GK Hospital, Bhuj—built with over ₹100 crore from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund—through a series of manoeuvres ended up with the corporate giant Adani on a 99-year lease; which now also runs the Gujarat Adani Institute of Medical Sciences. The lease was granted during Narendra Modi’s chief ministership through a resolution passed by the Gujarat state government in 2009
Initially, the state government had conveyed to the PMO, which had all along been overseeing its construction as well as to the then Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj, that the newly-constructed 300-bed super speciality hospital should be managed by the union health ministry as the annual maintenance cost of ₹15 crore would be beyond it.
The government was spending around ₹3 crore annually on the previous district hospital. The state government even suggested setting up of a medical college and a nursing school attached to the hospital, which too was cleared by the Centre post haste.
Thereafter matters went into a tailspin. According to reports emanating from within the establishment, the state government began dragging its feet on the Kutch AIIMS issue, suggesting Patan in north Gujarat as a plausible location for AIIMS.
But the Gujarat AIIMS failed to come up and the GK Hospital, Bhuj—built with over ₹100 crore from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund—through a series of manoeuvres ended up with the corporate giant Adani on a 99-year lease; which now also runs the Gujarat Adani Institute of Medical Sciences (GAIMS).
The lease was granted during Narendra Modi’s chief ministership through a resolution passed by the Gujarat state government in 2009.
The Modi government’s lease of the medical facility to the Adanis has been the subject matter of a protracted judicial tussle with a PIL challenging the decision filed in the Gujarat High Court in 2011. The issue has now reached the Supreme Court, where it rests for the moment.
The Modi government’s lease of the medical facility to the Adanis has been the subject matter of a protracted judicial tussle with a PIL challenging the decision. The issue has now reached the Supreme Court, where it rests for the moment.
The PIL filed by Adam Chaki and taken up in judicial forums by his lawyer Hashim Qureshi had sought cancellation of the lease in the interest of the poor people of the district and had listed the sequence of events to allege that the state government had handed over the administration of the hospital to the business house, bypassing mandatory procedures.
The PIL stated that the government without giving any reason had rejected offers from highly qualified groups like Narayan Hrudayalaya Institute of Cardiac Sciences, Bengaluru and Manipal Group of educational institutions, and instead opted for Adani Group, who had absolutely no experience of working in the area of medical education or public health.
Though the Gujarat High Court dismissed the PIL in its judgment dated January 31, 2012, with the then acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice JB Pardiwala accepting the idea of public-private partnership, the high court laid down stringent conditions to be followed.
These included adding 450 beds, reserving 10% of seats in the medical college for students from Kutch, providing free treatment to poor patients and state government employees, and setting up a panel comprising government and Adani nominees to manage the facilities, with the income from the hospital and the medical college to be spent in development of the complex only.
Subsequently Chaki returned to the High Court in October 2014 with a fresh plea that the hospital was not providing proper medical facilities in contempt of the court’s 2012 directions. After the government pointed out to the Court that seats could not be reserved for students of a particular district, the 10% reserved seats were also converted to a government quota to be given out as per norms applicable to other medical colleges. The issue remains mired in litigation, with the matter now in the apex court.
Meanwhile, with the Modi government dangling the AIIMS carrot before Gujarat, a ‘fratricidal’ face-off has broken out between Vadodara and Rajkot cities to bag it.
The dice was loaded heavily in favour of Vadodara during the tenure of former Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, with minister Saurabh Patel, a Modi favourite, from Vadodara strongly pitching for it. However the tide turned in favour of Rajkot when Patel lost his cabinet berth in the Vijay Rupani government. The present chief minister hails from Rajkot. The familiar lob and volley game that politicians play continues.
RK Misra is a senior journalist based in Gandhinagar, Gujarat