| Katihar resident Abdul Haque, a heart patient, arrives at PMCH on a reserved autorickshaw on Friday. Picture by Ranjeet Kumar Dey |
Patna High Court on Friday directed the state to ensure the restoration of the 102 ambulance service by Monday but the three-day-old strike continued to help private ambulances to fleece patients’ kin.
“Why should not the salary of the secretary sitting at the secretariat be stayed for such conduct?” said the court, annoyed at the crores of rupees the state has not paid to the operator, Dr Jain Video On Wheels Ltd.
The free service is run under Bihar Swasthya Samiti.
The family of Nargis Bano, a 32-year-old pregnant woman, had to shell out Rs 1,500 on a private ambulance to take her to Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) on Friday after her condition deteriorated. “Had the 102 ambulance service been on, we would not have to pay so much. The 102 service ambulances provide free service to pregnant women and are well-equipped to handle emergencies. Throughout the hour-long journey, I was extremely worried. The hired ambulance only had a blue beacon,” said Mohammad Jahir Abbas, Bano’s husband.
Muzaffarpur resident Mahendra Singh, who brought father Shambhu Singh, an accident victim, to PMCH in another private ambulance, said: “I had to pay Rs 2,000 for the private ambulance. I would have preferred taking an 102 ambulance instead.”
Katihar resident Abdul Rashid, who brought elder brother Abdul Haque in a reserved autorickshaw for Rs 4,000, said: “The 102 ambulance service had been hit in our district earlier too. Why is the state government not taking the issue seriously?” asked Abbas.
Sources said all 117 ambulances running under 102 ambulance service stopped functioning since Wednesday.
At some places, the drivers and technicians of the ambulances have gone on strike citing huge payment backlog, while The Telegraph found that Dr Jain Video On Wheels Ltd, which operates the ambulances on public-private partnership mode, is yet to get Rs 41 crore from State Health Society, Bihar, because of which it has stopped clearing petrol bills of ambulances in some districts.
Initially, the company officials had claimed that the ambulance services were hit because of strike by drivers and technicians. Hearing a writ petition, Justice Ramesh Kumar Dutta of Patna High Court directed the state to take action to ensure the 102 services are restored by Monday.
The court expressed its annoyance that it might not be a sound service for the state government but it affects people in general.
The state has taken the service of ambulances from Dr Jain Video On Wheels Ltd for which it must make payments. The petition filed by Dr Jain Video on Wheels Ltd says in spite of the service rendered, the state has kept crores of rupees pending to the operator. The bench said: “Why should payment of the salary of the secretary sitting at the secretariat be stayed for such conduct?”
Subhash Kumar Yadav, a driver of 102 ambulance in Banka, claimed Dr Jain Video On Wheels Ltd: “Employees of our district have not gone on strike. Rather the company has stopped providing us petrol. We have not given any strike call. The company is spreading rumours that employees have gone on strike. Earlier, we went on strike but not this time.”
However, Pawan Kumar, an ambulance driver in Bhagalpur, said: “Employees of all 17 ambulances in our district are on strike because of non-payment of salary for five months.” Atul Prakash Nigam, CEO, Dr Jain On Video Wheels Ltd, said: “Yes, at some places, we have not been able to provide petrol to ambulance staff. At other places, drivers and technicians have gone on strike.”