Punjab’s ongoing disagreement with the Union government over the rebranding of Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centres, now termed ‘AAP clinics’ by the Aam Aadmi Party-led State government, has escalated further. The Union government, in response to Punjab’s defiance, has not only withheld National Health Mission grants amounting to ₹621 crore but has now decided to withhold over ₹1,800 crore earmarked for capital investment assistance under a separate scheme.
The Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centre Scheme
The Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centre scheme is a centrally sponsored scheme (CSS), jointly funded by the Centre and the State in a 60:40 ratio. These wellness centres aim to provide comprehensive primary healthcare services, covering a range of health issues for citizens across the country.
Renaming Controversy: ‘AAP Clinics’
The Aam Aadmi Party-led Punjab government’s decision to rebrand the Ayushman Bharat Wellness Centres as ‘AAP clinics’ sparked controversy. This move raised concerns about potential political overtones in the healthcare sector, as the centres were initially designed to operate under the Ayushman Bharat scheme, a flagship healthcare initiative by the Central government.
Already grappling with the withholding of ₹621 crore in National Health Mission grants, Punjab faces the risk of losing an additional ₹1,800 crore allocated for capital investment assistance. This funding is crucial for the implementation of various developmental projects outlined in the State’s proposal.
Union Ministry’s Stance
The Union Ministry of Finance, in a letter dated November 23, highlighted the violation of branding guidelines by the Punjab government. Despite Punjab’s earlier undertaking to comply with these guidelines on July 5, 2023, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reported ongoing violations, particularly concerning Ayushman Bharat centres.
Violation and Compliance
The Union Finance Ministry emphasized that the Punjab government had been informed of these branding violations earlier and was requested to rectify them. A compliance report was expected by September, failing which the capital investment proposals under the Special Assistance to States Scheme for Capital Investment 2023-24 would not be considered.
Capital Investment Assistance Scheme
Punjab, seeking a special assistance loan of ₹1,837 crore for 103 different projects, finds itself in a challenging situation. The Union Ministry of Finance explicitly stated that funds would only be released once Punjab adheres to the mandatory conditions related to CSS branding and nomenclature.
Health Minister’s Concerns
Punjab’s Health and Family Welfare Minister, Balbir Singh, expressed concern over the Union government’s decision to halt grants under the Ayushman Scheme since December 2022. This has resulted in pending funds amounting to ₹621 crore, adversely impacting ongoing healthcare initiatives in the state.
What are ‘AAP Clinics’?
The rebranded ‘AAP Clinics’ are essentially the Ayushman Bharat Wellness Centres operating under the Aam Aadmi Party’s nomenclature. These clinics, initially conceived to provide essential healthcare services under the Ayushman Bharat scheme, are now at the center of a political and financial dispute.
The Tussle: Political vs. Healthcare
The core of the dispute lies in the perceived politicization of healthcare services. While the Punjab government asserts its right to rename and rebrand the wellness centres, the Union government insists on maintaining the original branding established under the Ayushman Bharat scheme. This clash reflects a broader ideological disagreement between the state and central authorities.
As of the latest update, Punjab Chief Secretary Anurag Verma has confirmed that the state government is actively pursuing the matter with the Union government. Despite asserting that the capital funds sought are unrelated to the Ayushman Bharat scheme, the state faces the challenge of convincing the Union government to reconsider its stance.
Punjab’s predicament over the potential loss of ₹1,800 crore in capital investment assistance reflects the intersection of political decisions and public welfare. The rebranding of Ayushman Bharat Wellness Centres as ‘AAP Clinics’ has become a focal point of contention, impacting not only healthcare initiatives but also crucial developmental projects. The ongoing dialogue between the state and central authorities will determine the future trajectory of healthcare services and capital investments in Punjab.