The Tarun Gogoi government is quick on the draw when it comes to taking pot shots at the Centre. Every other day, the Chief Minister comes out with a statement how the Modi government is tying his hands down with fund squeeze and other nefarious tactics. But as far as health services are concerned, Gogoi and his Health minister are on a sticky wicket. Health is one public service in which the presence of a government is keenly felt. But in Assam, this department and its minister Dr zrul Islam are hardly registering in the public consciousness, in a matter that is literally about life and death. The Health department has been on such a downward spiral that leave aside hapless patients, even the patience of doctors in the government’s payroll, is threatening to run out soon. The medical services association has now set a deadline of December 15 for the State government to lend an ear to its demands, or else it is set to go on agitation. So what are the reasons pushing government doctors onto the warpath? Well, it turns out that about one-third of them have been working without pay for about a year. Doctors serving under the Family Welfare department, working at Adarsh hospitals, as well as newly appointed doctors not getting retention — are being subjected to this indignity with the Fince department least bothered about their plight. When even regular salaries are not being released, the less said the better about other problems like rural allowances, un-cleared arrears, cadre revision and promotions. The stagtion is such that promotions do not come for 20-25 years at a stretch. Then there is the question of unfilled posts in the State health services, with as many as 1,668 posts still lying vacant out of 4,250 posts. The problem will be compounded when about 500 more posts will fall vacant due to superannuation within the next two years. The medical services association has further pointed out that as many as 13 districts are going without a joint director to supervise health care, 35 out of 88 posts of chief medical officers are lying vacant, 210 out of 550 posts sub-divisiol medical officers have remained unfilled for years. All these figures indicate clearly how low public health services figure in the Tarun Gogoi government’s scheme of things. While the State government has relied heavily on a central health scheme like the tiol Rural Health Mission (NRHM, now NHM) to provide health services to the rural poor, it has neglected to plan ahead and do its bit to build up health infrastructure. The Chief Minister has warned post-graduate doctors of strict legal action if they refuse to serve in government hospitals in rural areas. But he will also have to apply his mind to new doctors forced to quit government service after being appointed by the APSC, because they have been going without salaries for months on end. Coming on top of critical lack of medical equipments and medicines in government hospitals and health centres, lack of remuneration is the last straw. The poor bear the brunt turally, forced to go for costly private health care. Unless the State government displays some commitment to public health services, it cannot motivate doctors by merely invoking the call of duty under essential services or issuing threats and blandishments.