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Telemedicine suffers paralytic attack

An ambitious project, with the potential to deliver healthcare facilities to the remotest areas of manpower-starved Jharkhand, is back to square one.

If sources at Jharkhand Space Application Centre (JSAC) are to be believed, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), which had earlier agreed to partner the state in a telemedicine project, is now unwilling following fresh limitations after it came under the ambit of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.

In the wake of this development, the JSAC sent a revised proposal to the state health department three months ago and is still awaiting its response.

“We need to know whether the government still wants to go ahead with the project given the fact that it will have to bear the total cost alone. Some states like Kerala and Gujarat have made telemedicine a huge hit because they were prompt in taking decisions. But, health officials here are yet to reply,” said a well-placed JSAC source, apprehensive that the project would be swept under the carpet because of the cost factor.

Jharkhand had mooted its telemedicine plan in 2005, while the formal proposal was sent to Isro for technical sanction in 2009.

The more than Rs 100-crore project was envisaged in three phases.

In the first, seven district hospitals, a medical van and two medical college hospitals were to be connected. The second would have linked eight more district hospitals and one medical van, while the final phase would have covered seven district hospitals, a medical college hospital and a medical van.

Officials maintained that after the spectrum controversy surrounding Isro, especially the S-band saga in 2011, the elite research agency had come under CAG lens.

This, according to state IT officials, may be keeping Isro from reconsidering its role in the ambitious telemedicine project.

“Isro hasn’t categorically said it won’t fund us. It normally doesn’t say so. But, it was evident during our recent interaction three months ago, when we sent a fresh proposal on linking three medical colleges with district hospitals for technical sanction. After a sanction, there are lot of clearances required from various central authorities as it involves allocation of spectrum and bandwidth, besides equipment. Earlier, all these were done by Isro and a state only had to offer space and maintain the facility. This time, Isro asked us to seek all mandatory clearances on our own,” a source said.

JSAC director-in-charge Sarvesh Singhal conceded that they had sent a separate proposal on funds to the health department.

“That was around three months ago. We are yet to hear from them (health officials),” he said.

Health secretary B.K. Tripathi didn’t receive calls on Sunday, while health director Praveen Chandra wasn’t aware of the latest developments.

“A few years ago, some money was given to RIMS for setting up a telemedicine centre. I am not aware of the current status,” Chandra said, adding that the deputy secretary of the department might be in the know.

Deputy secretary Ram Kumar Sinha remained incommunicado.