The ‘Entitlement letters’ signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that were directly sent to the beneficiaries, boasting various welfare schemes of the Modi government, had provoked West Bengal chief Minister Mamata Banarjee to pull out of the ambitious Ayushman Bharat –Pradhan Mantri Jan AarogyaYojana (AB-PMJAY) scheme, it has been learnt.
A copy of PM Modi’s letter, written in Bangla and accessed by National Herald, throws light on how the government has been trying to capitalise on “the biggest healthcare scheme of the world” towards its own political purpose, months ahead of the general election.
The entitlement letter not only boasts about the welfare schemes launched by the Modi government, but even goes on to emphasise on the so-called “poverty” and the struggle faced by Modi years ago, as the PM also often claims in his speeches. The entire exercise denies the states any credit, majority of which are contributing approx 40 pc expenses for the healthcare scheme.
The Hindi version of the letter that was sent to another beneficiary states, “My poor sisters and brothers are trying hard to change their present and the future with their strong will power and hard work. I have experienced poverty and know that poor people have a high sense of honour.”
Sources told National Herald that entitlement letters, written in various languages and having signature of the PM, were sent to the beneficiaries of the Ayushman Bharat across the country. The very fact that health is a state subject in the Constitution has been a primary reservation of some of the state governments, which have been apprehensive about the overriding powers of a centralised scheme that Ayushman Bharat is.
“I can state from my own experience that the best way to uplift poor is to empower them. Ever since, you have bestowed me with the responsibility of the post of PM, I have tried to empower the poor, the common man and women of the country,” states the letter. The aim of the Ayushman Bharat is to provide healthcare facilities to 10 crore families, it says.
As per sources, the Modi government has sent entitlement letters to the beneficiaries directly in many states without consulting the state governments, but most of the states remained silent except West Bengal, whose government has been at the forefront to galvanise anti-BJP forces. On Jan 19, WB CM Mamata Banerjee held a mega anti-BJP rally in Kolkata, in which representatives of as many as 20 political parties had participated.
As per sources, Mamata made her mind to pull out of the scheme in December last year. However, she waited till Jan 10 to announce the decision, it has been learnt.
As per her instructions, Rajiv Sinha, the Additional Chief Health Secretary at the Department of Health and Family Welfare in West Bengal, shot off a letter to the Modi government announcing West Bengal’s withdrawal from the flagship scheme.
Accusing the Modi government of violating the MoU signed between the Central government and West Bengal, Sinha also questioned the intent of the Modi government.
“With clear stipulations, it is not understood as to why the Government of India unilaterally decided to issue an entitlement letter/card to the beneficiaries directly,” reads the letter.
“To our surprise, the entitlement letter/card issued by your ministry mentions the name of the scheme as PMJAY, which is not only a violation of the stipulation of the said MoU, but has created unnecessary confusion at the state level…. Under the above mentioned situation, this is to inform you that the Government of West Bengal is withdrawing from Ayushman Bharat-Swasthyasathi scheme with immediate effect.”
A day after, on January 11, Mamata made the decision public at a rally in Krishnanagar, Nadia district.
“Today, we are withdrawing from the Ayushman Bharat scheme. Now, the Centre will have to bear the entire cost of the scheme as we will no longer pay our share of the money. Why should we pay if it (Centre) takes all the credit?” said Banerjee.
Analysts believe Banerjee’s main contention was about the share in the total expenditure. She had to share 40 per cent of the expenditure incurred in premium payment, but the entire credit for the success was being claimed by the Modi government.
“Centre is sending letters to people from post offices, saying that it has done health insurance for them. How can they take credit when the state governments bears 40 per cent of the cost for this scheme?” Banerjee had questioned.
Sources say that Centre’s decision to not take into the loop all the states while sending out entitlement letters is creating resentment among other governments as well, with Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh also actively considering withdrawing from the flagship scheme of the Modi government.
As per the MoU signed between Centre and states, the expenditure incurred on the premium payment will be shared between Central and State Governments in a specified ratio.
The funding for the scheme will be shared – 60:40 for all states and UTs with their own legislatures, 90:10 in northeastern states and the three Himalayan states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and 100% central funding for UTs without a legislature.
(The story was updated with additional inputs at 1:57 PM)