Kedarnath, not poor health facilities, a poll issue in Uttarakhand

Reports of death of new-born children or expectant mothers is fairly common in Uttarakhand. With main roads often several kms away, primary health centres being sparse, there is little people can do

Representative image
Representative image
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Naveen Joshi

Priyanka’s labour pains started early and at night. With the Primary Health Centre 18 kilometres away at Dhoulchina, villagers put her on a ‘Doli’ and set off. But even before they could cover the distance, she had to deliver her child in a field in torchlight and in the midst of a steady drizzle.

The 21-year old turned out to be lucky. Both she and her child survived. But reports of the death of the new-born child or the expectant mother is fairly common in Uttarakhand. With the main roads often several kilometres away and the primary health centres being sparse, there is little people can do. Reaching the health centre is no guarantee that the doctor would be there and the patient would get treated.

Infant mortality in the state was 38 per thousand in 2018-19 and Uttarakhand was the only state where IMR was actually increasing. In 2015- 16, IMR in the state was 32 and even earlier it was 28. But poor health insfrastructure is unlikely to be an electoral issue in the state even this time as people elect a new legislature. Death of young children and young women is not an election issue.

Election issues are the transformation of Kedarnath Dham by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the all-weather Char Dhaam Road besides other development schemes announced. The opposition parties are busy mocking the BJP, highlighting scams and citing growing unemployment as the failures of the ruling party. BJP leaders in turn claim that the double engine government at the Centre and in the state had transformed the state.

But a report by the CAG in March 2021 had highlighted the acute shortage of hospital buildings, doctors and paramedics. The OPDs, diagnostic facilities, maternal and child healthcare and emergency services were all found to be lagging the benchmarks set by the Union Government.

Even the affluent outsiders who are flocking to the state and building palatial houses are apprehensive. The absence of healthcare facilities is also forcing people to abandon the state and settle outside.


However, the state has seen a rush of new roads besides small and big dams. Restrictions on buying land have been lifted or relaxed. Industrialists and the land mafia in the state are having a field day. The villagers have lost out. Any company, industry or individual can now buy as much land as they can in the state. The less privileged have been left with little option but to leave the state.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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