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‘Happy’ news for Didi

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New Delhi, May 31: Union health minister Harsh Vardhan has said he would be “happy” to consider the Bengal government’s proposal for an alternative site for the AIIMS that the UPA government had approved at Raiganj a few years ago.

Bengal had expressed its inability to acquire land for the project at the site, which fell in the constituency of Mamata Banerjee’s arch-foe Deepa Das Munshi, who was then the Congress MP from Raiganj. She lost the seat to the CPM’s Mohammad Salim this time.

A Union health ministry release said the Bengal government had last year proposed Siliguri and Cooch Behar as the possible sites. It added that the minister said “he would be happy to review the suggestion”.

Initially, the Mamata government had suggested Kalyani as the possible site but the then Union health minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had not accepted the proposal.

Vardhan’s comments came at a meeting with senior health officials and the directors of the existing seven All India Institute of Medical Sciences on Friday, the release said.

The Centre recently established six new AIIMS, investing Rs 820 crore in each, in Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Jodhpur, Patna, Raipur and Rishikesh. The institutes have begun partial operations in delivering healthcare and education.

Vardhan said the Centre was willing to help all the other state governments too to establish new AIIMS in their territories, modelled on the original one in New Delhi.

“Land acquisition should not be a problem because it is for a public purpose,” he said.

“It would be a government-run free facility and no private company would make profits. I request all chief ministers to avail this opportunity.”

During the three-hour meeting, Vardhan asked about these six institutes’ infrastructure and faculty requirements. He offered the directors additional powers to take on-the-spot decisions to avoid delays in the full operationalisation of the institutes.

He said he would write to the chief ministers of the six states, asking them to remove bottlenecks to the completion of these projects.

Vardhan said several hospitals in southern India, such as those run by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, and the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, have established high standards of free healthcare and should serve as models for northern India.