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Despite HC order, Gujarat govt fails to give permanent doctor to island-village off top private port, Pipavav

Pipavav's private port visible on way to Shiyalbet
By Our Representative
The Gujarat government hasn’t yet provided a permanent physician for the “remote” island, Shiyalbet, with a population of about 15,000 off Saurashtra coast, even though it is three weeks past the cut-off date set by the Gujarat High Court for providing a doctor to the sub-health centre in the village.
The village is situated just about 12 kilometres by sea from near one of India’s most high-profile private ports, Pipavav. The Gujarat High Court had had mandated the state government last month to provide a permanent doctor to Shiyalbet island-village, starting September 1.
However, local activists, who have been fighting a legal battle for Shiyalbet residents for the last about nine years, said, nothing of the kind has so far happened.
Arvind Khuman, lawyer- activist attached with the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad, and is based in Amreli, about 70 km off Pipavav, told Counterview, “Our aim was to equip the villagers with all the basic social infrastructure to Shilyalbet. That we had to take approach the High Court speaks volumes about the state’s governance.”
Khuman, who coordinates with local villagers said, “Following the High Court order, a doctor has begun to visit the health sub-centre in the village, but only once or twice a week. However, the doctor comes at will and goes away after sitting in the sub-centre for a couple of hours or so.”
The health sub-centre
Khuman further said, “There is still, clearly, no permanent posting of doctor. The doctor who comes to Shiyalbet from different primary health centres of the villages situated along coastal Saurashtra. The result is that, there is no continuity, and the villagers do not know when to approach the doctor. The sub-centre, situated just outside the village, remains deserted like before.”
However, Khuman conceded, “Following the recent outbreak of swine flu across Gujarat, two nurses, one male and another female, have been permanently coming to the health centre, whose building was constructed in 2012 following large number of representations to the state government.”
Petitioned eight years ago in the name of one Jandurbhai Menshibhai Baladhiya, vice-President of Shiyalbet Swayamsevak Sangh, an unregistered body working for the betterment the villagers, the demand to have a permanent doctor acquired added strength following a policy decision in 2012 to upgrade the sub-health centre to the level of Primary Health Centre (PHC).
Yet, no further action. “In the absence of any facilities facilities in the building, the residents of the island have had to cross the sea to reach the coast by boat, which is approximately 12 km, and then travel 15 to 20 km, to reach the nearest hospital in Jafrabad”, said Sumit Kumar Ganguly of the CSJ.
Activist Arvind Khuman (right) with Sumit Kumar Ganguly
During arguments in the High Court, government pleader Manisha Lavkumar argued that the non-establishment of PHC was due to “non-availability” of a full-time doctor, adding, with the construction of the sub-health Centre at Shiyalbet, a female health worker and a doctor would be made available. They would in the sub-centre between 10 am to 4 pm for 5 days a week.
Lavkumar admitted that, while 108 emergency ambulances were available in the coastal mainland Saurashtra, the decision to have boat ambulances for the fisherfolk has still not been implemented, adding, the state government had taken a “policy decision to purchase seven such boats ambulances, fully equipped to handle any kind of emergencies.”

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