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Payment dispute hits ambulance operation

- District health societies refuse contract renewal, private firm yet to return emergency vehicles

A dispute over dues between the government and a private firm has hit the functioning of an ambulance service.

State Health Society, Bihar, terminated the contract of Dr Jain Video on Wheels Ltd in February this year over a financial dispute. The private firm ran the 102 ambulance service in a public-private partnership mode.

These ambulances operate in the districts in large numbers. Sources said 449 ambulances are at present running under the 102 service.

Since February when the district health societies concerned were instructed not to renew its contract with the firm, several ambulances are out of operation.

Health department officials said all the ambulances have not been handed over by Dr Jain Video on Wheels because of non-payment of dues.

The private firm also moved Patna High Court a few months ago over the dues. It claimed the health society’s different wings owed the firm around Rs 23 crore.

Drivers and technicians of the ambulances claimed some of the vehicles were not returned. They also said many of them were lying without maintenance in the open after being damaged, often by residents.

Some of them said the district health societies did not repair the ambulances.

State Health Society, Bihar, purchased the ambulances. The private firm was responsible for the manpower and salary of the people operating the ambulances. The district health societies bore the ambulances’ maintenance cost.

K.K. Mishra, the Patna civil surgeon, said of the 23 ambul ances in the district, 14 were running. He claimed rest of the ambulances have not yet been handed over to health society. He added: “We cannot do anything because the private firm’s dispute with the health society has put some of the ambulances out of service. The private firm has not handed over all the ambulances.”

Sonu Pandey, a driver associated with the 102 service and secretary of a union of emergency workers, said: “The department’s claim that the private firm has not returned all the ambulances putting them out of service is correct. But many of the ambulances that have been handed over are non-functional because of damage. These ambulances requ ire maintenance but the district health societies have not got the work done.”

People involved in the 102 service in West Champaran district said nine of 18 ambulances are operational. Those in Bhagalpur said 13 out of 26 ambulances are operating. The district’s programme manager, Manish Kumar, however, claimed only two of the ambulances were out of service.

Sources in the health department said 250 ambulances have been recently bought for the 102 service. They are yet to be functional because of some pending formalities, though.