West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced Thursday that her government will pull out of the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat scheme. She said the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has been taking credit for the scheme, which is funded by state governments.
“Today we are withdrawing from the Ayushman Bharat scheme. Now, the Centre will have to bear the entire cost of the scheme as we will no longer pay our share of the money. Why should we pay if it (Centre) takes all the credit?” Banerjee said at a rally at Krishnanagar in Nadia district. Her government then sent a letter to the Centre on its intent to pull out of the scheme also known as Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Abhiyan (PMJAY).
According to the Chief Minister, states bear 40 per cent of the cost of the scheme, which aims to cover over 10 crore vulnerable families and provide health cover up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year. She said: “The Centre is sending letters to people from post offices saying that it has done health insurance for them. How can they take credit when the state governments bear 40 per cent of the cost for this scheme?”
Union Health Ministry officials said they are exploring legal options and would also seek the refund of the amount already disbursed to the state. Citing the memorandum of understanding, sources said that states or the Centre have to give three months notice before pulling out of the scheme. West Bengal is one of the better performing states under the scheme.
Banerjee also said the Centre was using Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photograph and the logo of a lotus (the BJP party symbol) in the scheme.
“Today I saw a copy of the letter. It mentions the name of the Prime Minister and has his photograph. There is also a logo which looks like the lotus flower. That flower symbolises their corruption and conspiracy. This is very unfortunate,” said Banerjee.
Sources said that some other Opposition-ruled states like Karnataka too may choose to exit the NDA government’s flagship health programme. The programme is currently on in all states except Delhi, Telangana and Odisha. Incidentally, it is a dispute over the name that has stalled the programme in Delhi.
Ayushman Bharat CEO Dr Indu Bhusan said: “We will discuss with the state government and try to address their concerns. We are hopeful that we can get the decision reversed. Our cards do not have a photo of the Prime Minister, they are completely apolitical. The letter (that features Modi) is only a way of telling beneficiaries about the scheme. There are some problems but I am sure we can work that out.”
West Bengal had already stopped giving data to the National Health Agency for some time now and sources said a high-level official visit was “being stalled” by the state government for three weeks now.
A source said: “For many days now state officials were even refusing to come on the phone.”
For the NHA, the pullout is a setback because it affects the national portability of the scheme. With Delhi already out, Kolkata which is the preferred destination for many people from the Northeast and Bihar, officials fear it could mean more than just the number of beneficiaries in that state.
The West Bengal government had initially declined to participate in the Ayushman Bharat scheme as it already had its own health protection scheme called Swasthya Sathi. However, in July last year, the state government signed an agreement to implement the Centre’s health insurance scheme under the joint banner ‘Ayushman Bharat-Swasthya Sathi’. Following the merger of both schemes in October last year, the cost for the beneficiaries was shared in a 60:40 ratio with the state government bearing 40 per cent of the cost.