A recent controversy has arisen as the Centre withholds the release of funds under the National Health Mission (NHM) for West Bengal. The Chief Minister of West Bengal has reportedly written to the Prime Minister, seeking intervention in the matter. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) has issued a press release dated December 3, 2023 explaining its views on this controversy.
The release states that the branding guidelines for Ayushman Bharat –Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs), issued on May 30, 2018, emphasize specific color schemes and language for the building titles. While the guidelines prescribe certain colors and English titles, West Bengal has chosen blue and white for the building colors, and the title “Susasthya Kendra” in the regional language alongside “Health & Wellness Centre” in English.
Issues of Non-Compliance
The Centre cites clauses in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of India and West Bengal, emphasizing adherence to the Framework of Implementation of NHM and guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Additionally, compliance with existing manuals, guidelines, instructions, and circulars is mandated.
Meetings have been held on this issue, including those chaired by the Secretary of Health and the Joint Secretary (Policy) in 2023. Letters and communications urging compliance were sent to West Bengal, highlighting the importance of adhering to branding guidelines for NHM.
Implications on Funding and Participation
The Department of Expenditure has communicated that further fund flow to West Bengal under NHM will be conditional upon compliance with branding guidelines. The issue was reiterated during the National Programme Coordination Committee (NPCC) meeting on November 8, 2023.
Furthermore, the Centre has raised concerns over West Bengal’s lack of participation in key government consultations and programs. It has observed that the State did not send any representative to the 14th Meeting of the Central Council of Health and Family Welfare in May 2022, and there was no senior-level participation in the 15th meeting in July 2023. West Bengal has also been noted for its partial participation in the Ayushman Bhav campaign and non-participation in the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra.
The withholding of funds raises questions about the potential impact on health infrastructure and services in West Bengal, emphasizing the need for swift resolution.