The Bihar government is dithering on identifying a place for setting up a second All India Institute of Medical Sciences and has now placed the onus on the Centre to locate a suitable site.
The first AIIMS, in Patna, is partially functional.
Health department officials told this paper that more than setting up a new AIIMS, the focus of the state was on opening six new medical colleges.
The Centre had on Wednesday said the second AIIMS project was getting delayed because the Bihar government was not providing the land. The state government meanwhile has asked the Centre to finalise the location of the land. Union health secretary C.K. Mishra told The Telegraph over phone on Thursday: "The Bihar government was supposed to make available 200 acres of land, linked with required infrastructure - four-lane road connectivity to highways, sufficient water supply, electricity connection of required load and regulatory/statutory clearances for the proposed AIIMS. However, non-availability of land is delaying the government's plan to set up a second AIIMS in Bihar."
Mishra said that as per the set rules, a state government identifies three to four plots of land following which a central team visits the sites. He further said that though repeatedly asked to provide land, the state, in a recent letter to the health ministry, asked the Centre to finalise a piece of land for them.
"Identification of the land is the state's responsibility. The state is required to provide us some suitable choices of land with required parameters but they are ignoring it," Mishra added.
Union finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced a second AIIMS for Bihar in his budget speech of 2015-16. However, even after two years, it has not been decided where the institute will be set up.
A state health department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: "It seems the state is not as serious about the project as the credit for it will go to the central government. On the other hand, it (state) itself is identifying land for six more medical colleges it plans to set up at Samastipur, Purnea, Chhapra, Ara, Begusarai and Mahua in Vaishali. At a few places, including Mahua, land has even been acquired for the purpose. This will enable the state to score over the Centre while providing healthcare facilities to its people." The choice of Mahua is significant since it is represented in the Assembly by health minister Tej Pratap Yadav.
At present, Bihar has nine government medical colleges, including Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) and Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH), both located in the state capital.
The reluctance on the part of the state government in identifying land for the new AIIMS has come in for criticism from the Indian Medical Association (IMA). IMA's senior vice-president (Bihar chapter) Ajay Kumar said: "The state cannot escape from its responsibility by putting the onus on the Centre. By doing so, it is depriving the people of better health facilities." Principal, Government Medical College, Bettiah, Rajiv Ranjan Prasad said: "The matter of opening a new AIIMS in the state has become a political tool as both the state and the Centre have put the ball in each other's court.
Prasad, however, added that just the nomenclature of AIIMS was not enough. "Opening new centres will not serve any purpose until they are fully equipped, both in terms of infrastructure and faculty, otherwise it will only harm the interest of the patients as well as medical teaching," he said.
Senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi attacked the state government for failing to make available the land for the project. "Since the announcement of a second AIIMS, the union health minister wrote more than half-a-dozen letters to the Bihar government to make available 200 acres of land. But the state government has not replied to any of these letters," Modi said.
JDU's national general secretary Shyam Rajak ridiculed the Centre over the issue. 'They (Centre) have not yet streamlined the functioning of the existing AIIMS at Patna and they talk about opening a new centre," he said.