UPs National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam and one mans initiative have combined to create what can potentially be a poll issue in Deorias Rampur Karkhana constituency.
Among the candidates is Girijesh Shahi,an Independent who has been providing an emergency medical transport service (EMTS),his own initiative,in villages across the constituency for the past four years. The services popularity gives Shahi a possible edge over all other candidates. Villagers call it the Shahi Ambulance Nishulka Sewa,or Shahis Free Ambulance Service,though none of his vehicles is a proper ambulance.
Shahi runs a Tata Safari and eight Boleros,each of which serves as an ambulance and any of which reaches the doorstep of any villager who needs one. His service is round the clock and largely free,except for fuel charges in occasional cases.
Under the NRHM,a statewide EMTS was planned and 779 ambulances were bought at Rs 54.36 crore two years ago. These were kept lying in the yard of Tata Motors in Lucknow for months.
Shahi was in Lucknow when this reporter was in his constituency. He recently received gunshot injuries,one of his supporters says,and is undergoing treatment.
Behind the initiative is a personal tragedy. Shahi could not save his eight-year-old daughter in the absence of transport, says Munna Kumar,who drives one of the vehicles. So he decided to provide this service… The service is free,but sometimes villagers pay for the diesel.
Shahi started it in 2007 in his village of Nautan Shahi. It expanded after villagers there spread the word and residents of other parts of the district too sought the service,Munna says.
Shahi first gave out his Tata Safari for transporting patients,victims of road accidents and pregnant women to hospitals,himself riding a Hero Honda. With demand,his fleet too grew. He bought two Bolero vehicles. The rest of the Boleros are on hire,the rental Rs 15,000 a month,says Munna.
How does Shahi afford it? Villagers say he runs several poultry farms,and is also a contractor. Those close to him estimate that he spends at least Rs 5 to 7 lakh every month on the service.
Wall writings,now removed because of the elections,used to advertise Shahis mobile numbers. Villagers say everyone knows the numbers anyway. Shahi takes the calls himself. He keeps two cellphones with him,even at night, says his nephew Prabhat.
While driver Munna describes his work,another of Shahis vehicles passes by. Inside is Punam,pregnant,being taken home after a checkup at a hospital. With her is Durga,an Asha worker,who is paid from NRHM funds. We took Punam to the Deoria district hospital from our village,Saraura. No fee was charged for the transportation, Durga says.
For the election,Shahi has the backing of Asha workers in every village. Though they are paid under NRHM funds,it is his service that allows them to find transport for those they are looking after,particularly pregnant women. We get Rs 600 after every delivery. This service has made our job easy and we want Shahi to win the election, says Durga.
Several village chiefs too are behind Shahi. In fact,Shahis admirers say,he had been initially reluctant to contest till the gram pradhans persuaded him.
Shahi is pitted against the Samajwadi Partys sitting MLA Ghazala Lari,the BJPs Rajiv Mishra,the BSPs Rajaram Chauhan and the Congresss Anand Yadav.