‘Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital, Chamba (HP)… affiliated to Atal Medical and Research University (AMRU), HP…’ reads a huge board outside Akhand Chandi Palace, a heritage building in Chamba town, and the premises from where the classes for medical college are being run for six years now.
A close look at the board and one realises it is something rare.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee – two former prime ministers from rival parties and stalwarts of Indian politics whose names are still echoing in the campaigns for Himachal Pradesh assembly polls – on the same page in a state ruled by alternate Congress and BJP governments.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital, Chamba, was established in 2016 during the erstwhile Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government in Himachal Pradesh, and by upgrading existing Regional Civil Hospital, Chamba. The college currently runs from the building from Akhand Chandi Palace, one of the many royal buildings in erstwhile princely state of Chamba. It started with the admission of a hundred students in the first batch.
Initially affiliated to Himachal Pradesh University, it was later transferred to AMRU, a new medical university in the hill state, which too was earlier established as HP University of Health Sciences by an Act in 2017 but then the Act was amended by the Jairam Thakur-led BJP government in 2019 to name it after former PM late Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
But while the names of two former PMs on the same platform, respected for their public welfare works cutting across the party lines, promise something great for the residents of Chamba, the voters here are vocal to rue how “naam ka medical college” has actually put many lives at stake. According to the voters in Chamba constituency, they are at the receiving end of a double whammy. Voters say that while the existing Raja Shyam Singh Regional Hospital runs without specialised doctors, has no staff to operate machines, and patients are referred to Tanda (160 km away) even for “minor issues”, the new medical college is only “naam ka medical college” with its own building under construction for years, and nowhere near completion.
Such is the state of affairs that patients are given an appointment of over a month to get an ultrasound or CT scan done because there is no staff to run the machines at the old hospital, say voters. “It becomes a nightmare if a woman gets labour pains. For a normal delivery also, they refer patients to Tanda when there is no staff on duty,” said a woman.
One such voter is Kishori Lal, who works as a plumber in Chamba, and earns around Rs 12,000 a month. He still can’t forget the day of July 5 this year when his wife Pooja, who was in labour, was referred to Tanda, because the hospital expressed its inability to arrange blood platelets. She delivered twin daughters on the way to Tanda in the ambulance. “What do we have to do with such governments which cannot give us a basic hospital locally? My wife would have died… Luckily she delivered normally on the way to Tanda in the ambulance, but is this why we voted for this ‘double engine sarkaar’,” questions Lal. “This ‘naam ka’ medical college is not doing any good here… They just refer patients to Tanda or Chandigarh even for minor issues… Not everyone can afford private hospitals,” he added.
A woman, sitting at her shop in the main market of Chamba, remembers how a youth from a nearby village died on the way to Tanda, after being referred for a head injury. “There are no doctors in the regional hospital and the medical college doesn’t have a building. Neither the old hospital, nor the new college is equipped to handle cases properly. A youth had a head injury and he died on the way to Tanda… Till the patients reach Tanda, their condition gets worse and some even die on the way… Even for a basic delivery, a woman doesn’t have access to a government hospital here. Forget C-sections, they even refer for normal deliveries,” she rues.
“Doctors don’t stay at Chamba and are transferred every few days… There is new machinery but no one to operate it. For a basic ultrasound and X-ray, they tell patients to come after 20 or 30 days… Only God can tell when the building for the medical college will be completed. Sometimes there’s not even a senior doctor to guide or supervise the students,” said another Chamba resident.
In Chamba where Congress’s Neeraj Nayyar is pitted against BJP’s Neelam Nayyar, wife of incumbent MLA Pawan Nayyar, the road for BJP is already tough with rebel Indira Kapoor contesting as Independent.