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Hospitals in rural and tribal areas to be handed over to Red Cross: Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope

Rajesh Tope said that the Maha Vikas Aghadi government will be deciding over transferring all the tribal and rural hospitals to Red Cross Society in the next two weeks

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Saturday said that the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the state will decide in the next two weeks on the transfer of the hospitals in the tribal and rural areas of the state and the primary health centres under them to the Red Cross society or other charitable organisations.

Tope announced this while he was on his visit to a rural hospital in Mahabaleshwar. MLA Makrand Patil was also present on the occasion. Citing the shining performance of the Mahabaleshwar hospital and primary centres in the region which have been under the control of Red Cross Society management, the Maharashtra Health Minister said that other hospitals in tribal and rural areas should also be handed over to the Society.

“The rural hospital in Mahabaleshwar is an example of a change in management that brings good results. Providing advanced health care in this region was an uphill task. So recently, the state government handed over all the primary health centres in the region to the Bell Air Hospital run by the Red Cross Society. The performance in the hospitals and primary centres have seen a dramatic improvement. Mahabaleshwar Rural Hospital and Primary Health Center are at the top of the list. The new management effectively implemented several schemes of the state government such as maternity care. Due to its excellent performance, this hospital has achieved the highest number in the district,” Tope told reporters.

For 5 years, Red Cross will own the rural hospitals and primary health care centres: Tope

Tope further added that despite the change in guard of the hospital and primary health centres in Mahabaleshwar, the salaries of the charitable organisations, medicines for the patients, electricity bills and other miscellaneous expenses have been borne by the state government.

Talking about improving the medical facilities in the state, Tope said that 500 ambulances numbered 102 will be procured by the state government. Many Ambulances will be provided to Mahabaleshwar as it witnesses a large number of tourist visits, the minister added.

“Where there is a rural hospital but there is no intensive care unit, the intensive care unit would be started and the institutions would be allowed to charge for providing the services. The administration and the rural hospital have an agreement for only one year. During this one year, the administration will facilitate the hospital management in improving medical facilities in the villages. But for the next five years, the hospital will be owned by the Red Cross Society and the organization,” he said.

However, handing over of the medical facilities in rural and tribal regions of the state have engendered alarm among many people who have taken to social media platforms to condemn the Maharashtra Health Minister’s decision.

Netizens condemn the Maharashtra government’s decision to hand over rural hospitals to Red Cross

Legal activist group ‘Legal Rights Observatory’ took cognisance of Tope’s announcement and tweeted that handing over the tribal and rural health centres to foreign groups like Red Cross could be suicidal considering that India is plagued with Naxal and Maoists issues with foreign involvement in the rural areas. The group asserted that legal intervention would be in order if Tope went ahead with his announcement.

Another Twitter user said that granting health care centres to Red Cross would mean a free pass for the religious conversion of tribal and rural population.

One of the Twitter user called the decision announced by Maharashtra Health Minister a “dangerous move”.

Red Cross might act as a front for evangelism and funding of Naxalism

The apprehensions harboured by Indians about foreign organisations running medical facilities in the country are not entirely unfounded. In the past too, many foreign groups, most notably Christian missionaries, operated under the cover of providing subsidised and even free health care services, but in reality, were involved in carrying out their evangelistic activities. 

The Red Cross Society, an international organisation involved in relief work, is therefore seen with the same suspicion by the wary Indians. The fact that Maharashtra is one of the states racked with the menace of Naxalism and Maoism and the discovery of the foreign involvement in supporting this insurgency has only added to the apprehensions. 

Besides, several cases of lack of transparency by Red Cross Society in dispensation of its relief work have come to the fore. A scam was unearthed in 2016 in which an amount of nearly Rs 16 lakh was embezzled from the Red Cross India Fund. 

More recently, a report published in January 2020 states that the audit report of the Indian Red Cross Society from April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2018, obtained by The Tribune under the RTI Act has revealed a number of irregularities in various projects of the society, including sale of food packets, income from cinema halls of Chandigarh and income from ambulances and funeral vans. 

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