The likelihood of an AIIMS-like premier healthcare institute coming up anytime soon in Assam is fading. To start with, politics rendered the matter hopelessly messy, setting off competing public demands from some areas considered as potential AIIMS sites. The action soon shifted to court with the tiol Green Tribul (NGT) petitioned against the selection of Changsari as the fil site. In addition to knocking at the doors of NGT, the forum of activists demanding Raha as AIIMS site is also reportedly girding loins to approach the Gauhati High Court. The activists have argued that the site at Changsari’s Jalah in Kamrup district comes within an eco-sensitive zone desigted by the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) itself. Given this status, there can be no mega construction over a 572 bigha water body by filling it up with earth, the activists contend. They have also pointed out that if nearby hills are cut down for earth-filling, it will seriously impact the fragile green belt there, besides rousing the specter of catastrophic flooding of IIT Guwahati, Amingaon and other places nearby in North Guwahati. After all, the Jalah water body functions like a buffer to take up excess waters of the Brahmaputra flowing close by. These are valid concerns, and the Green Tribul has responded with an interim order, stopping all construction activities at the site. With the State Forest and Environment department, Pollution Control Board, Assam and GMDA filing affidavits before the NGT bench in Kolkata, it will be interesting to see what arguments the State and Central governments put up in favor of building the AIIMS at Changsari. Back in June 28 last when the Assam government formally handed over land at Changsari to the Centre, it was formally stated by the Central representative that the 750-bedded super-specialty hospital with 18 departments would come up with an investment of Rs 1,000 crore.
However, it now transpires that the Union Cabinet is yet to approve a budget and fix a time-frame for the proposed AIIMS in Assam. When the question came up in Parliament in the ongoing Winter session, the Health and Family Welfare Ministry revealed that under Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yoja (PMSSY), budgets have already been allocated for five other AIIMS-like institutes in the country to come up by 2020. The Centre’s wariness in going ahead with the AIIMS for Assam at Changsari does not bode well about its prospects of at all materializing in near future. The BJP-led government in the State had conveniently pushed the ball to the Centre’s court after facing large-scale protests at Raha in July last, immediately after its swearing-in. While saying it is the Centre’s ‘prerogative’ to take the fil decision to site the AIIMS, the Sarbanda Sonowal government also asked the Centre to take into account the ‘sentiments’ of the people of central Assam. With Dispur and now New Delhi both unwilling to grasp the nettle, it will be no surprise if the matter gets bogged down for good. The AIIMS Demand Committee of Raha may well succeed in tying up the matter in court, but re-opening the question for a proper and acceptable site for AIIMS in Assam will take everything back to square one. There were seven sites in contention including Dimoria, Kamalpur and North Guwahati, apart from Raha and Changsari. What is the guarantee public agitations will not erupt in the other potential sites, if Changsari filly gets the chop? And it is very likely that the State will witness more opportunistic politics in such a scerio. The incoming Sonowal government had ascribed the decision to hand over land at Changsari for an AIIMS to the previous Congress government in the State. To the utter bewilderment of many people, former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had then claimed that he was not aware of the contents in that file bearing his sigture! Anyway, Gogoi then lent his voice to the protesters’ demand to set up the AIIMS at Raha, a perfect example of running with the hares and hunting with the hound. Such politics has to end if this State is to derive any tangible benefits from the Centre.