West Bengal is one of the few states in India to forego implementing the Centre’s flagship health insurance scheme. Now, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is facing scrutiny by the state’s Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar over why this is the case.
“It has not been 100 days since I have taken charge as the governor,” said Dhankhar, who was sworn in as Governor in July. “And I have received around 3,000 applications from all over the state seeking medical assistance during this period. I have examined these applications and found out that they were all eligible for Centre’s Ayushman scheme.”
West Bengal has had a complex relationship with Ayushman Bharat ever since it was first announced last year. It became the first state to opt out of the scheme, Banerjee terming it a “waste [of] its hard-earned resources.” However, the state government later reversed course and chose to implement the scheme. Once again, however, the West Bengal government opted out later in the year over multiple disputes with the Centre concerning funding of the scheme and claims that it was being politicised to the advantage of the BJP.
“It’s not their money; we are paying forty percent of it,” Banerjee said at the time. “[It’s] the money from our states so I announce [our] withdrawal form the Ayushman Bharat scheme. If the Centre wants to run the Ayushman Bharat health scheme, they will have to pay the full amount.”
West Bengal is one of four holdout states where Ayushman Bharat is not being implemented in India, the others being Delhi, Odisha, and Telangana. The Centre has repeatedly reached out to the respective state governments. Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has urged them to do so a number of times, commenting in June “it is important that the benefits of Ayushman Bharat should reach all deprived and vulnerable people in the country. I will make all efforts to convince the remaining states and [union territories] to bring the benefits of the scheme to their people and ensure that no eligible person is deprived of these benefits.”
Governor Dhankhar has joined the calls. “If I am getting 3,000 applications in three months, seeking health assistance, it is definitely reflective of the state of [the] situation in the state,” he said. “I somehow find it incongruous why a central scheme that makes available such a great facility, which has been recognised all over the world, is not being adopted here for the benefit of people.”
Despite a number of policy differences between himself and the Banerjee government, Dhankhar has asserted that he is “not at war with the state government.” Instead, he maintains, “I have come here to serve the people of the state.” Of his urging the state government on Ayushman Bharat, he said “health should be kept above politics. Access to healthcare facilities should not be denied to people on account of their financial situation. If a big benefit can be made available to a citizen…then people should work in harmony to ensure that he gets it.”