Scant health infra stares at face in J’guda

the pioneer | 20 April 2021 | RAJ KUMAR SHARMA | JHARSUGUDA

As the second wave of Corona rocks Jharsuguda district, many raise questions on the administration’s Covid preparedness in the district.

Despite many big industrial houses like Vedanta, OPGC and MCL extending helping hands, the district is still far behind others when it comes to health infrastructure. On Sunday, the number of Corona patients breached the three-digit mark.

With the rising trend of Corona patients day after day, the district cannot cope with patients’ requirements due to the shortage of ICUs and beds with ventilators in hospitals. The members of civil society blamed the administration’s negligence and lack of political will for the situation.

A year ago, the old hospital at Mangal bazaar was renovated to function as a Covid hospital. The hospital was said to have contained about 100 beds for isolation ward, ten beds for ICU, and seven beds for backup.

The administration had assured to enhance ICU beds in future. The administration had also said that ten ventilators, sufficient oxygen cylinders, and compressors were also available in the hospital. The management of the hospital, set up by the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) and Vedanta’s assistance, was given to Hitech Medical College.

A memorandum of understanding was signed to provide required doctors and support staff by Hitech Medical College to the Jharsuguda Covid hospital.

While more than Rs 10 crore was sanctioned from the DMF funds, more than Rs 2 crore was given to the hospital by Vedanta Company’s CSR fund to procure the required machinery. As the Covid cases are spiking, the expenditure towards the hospital management and treatment of patients has increased substantially. Demands are being made from different civil society groups to provide 200 hospital beds and 50 beds with ventilators in the hospital. Otherwise, many patients in critical conditions will lose their lives.

On the other hand, the quality of treatment available in the hospital is also not up to the mark.Former Municipality Chairman Tapas Ray Choudhury said that the hospital’s infrastructure could only be improved with the support of big industrial houses in Jharsuguda. The district administration should immediately take steps to provide 50 ICU beds with ventilator support in the hospital.

Senior BJD leaders like Manoranjan Mohapatra admitted that the present scenario of the hospital is very precarious. Patients in critical conditions cannot be treated in the hospital due to a shortage of ICU beds with ventilators.

Likewise, the Jharsuguda District Bar Association president Trinath Gual proposed to increase ICU beds and ventilators, given the seriousness of the Covid infections in the second wave.

47 advanced ambulances dedicated in Odisha

Update Odisha | April 14, 2021

Bhubaneswar: On the auspicious occasion of Maha Bishuba Sankranti and Odia New Year, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Wednesday dedicated 47 new Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances to the people of Odisha on virtual mode.

Dedicating the new ambulances, the Chief Minister has expressed hope that these ambulances will meet the increasing demand for transportation of patients with the advanced life support system.

He expressed confidence that with the cooperation of people, we can beat the second wave as we have done last year.

Out of 47 new advanced life support ambulances, 28 ALS ambulances will serve under 108 service, whereas 19 ALS ambulances will serve at different medical colleges and hospitals.

All these ambulances are funded by different sources e.g. MPLAD, District Mineral Foundation (DMF), Odisha Mineral Bearing Areas Development Corporation(OMBADC) and Corporate CSR.

The latest addition to the 108 ambulance service is likely to increase the capacity of the service provider to reach out to more people in distress in different parts of the state.

These additional 108 ambulances will be attached to the respective District Headquarter Hospitals (DHH).

Ziqitza Health Services Pvt Ltd which is managing the 108 ambulance service in the state said that the capacity building of the service was possible due to the hand holding support of the MPs of Odisha, funds from the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) and Odisha mining funds.

The service provider said that the additional capacity is likely to increase the working capacity of the ambulance service.

“The latest addition of 28 more ambulances under 108 ambulance service is likely to help us to reach out to more number of people to cater to their needs. We have now completed eight years of our uninterrupted services and regularly widening our services,” said Sabyasachi Biswal, State Head of Ziqitza Healthcare Ltd.

After this new addition, the 108 ambulances fleet number has reached to 624, whereas there will be 500 number of 102 ambulance and 6 boat ambulances. There were two kind of ambulances i.e. Advanced Life Support and basic life support ambulances there in Odisha.

The advanced life support ambulances have all the latest features including Defibrillator Monitors, Syringe Pump, and Ventilator Machine. Earlier, 108 ambulance service has 56 ALS featured ambulances, this addition will increase its number to 84 in the state.

Odisha Assembly passes bill allowing govt to spend ₹1.75 lakh crore this fiscal

live mint | April 01, 2021

While introducing the Bill, Finance Minister Niranjan Pujari said ₹85,000 crore has been allocated as administrative expenditure, ₹75,000 crore as programme expenditure, ₹3,050 crore as disaster response fund and ₹6,950 crore towards transfers from the state

The Assembly on Wednesday passed the Odisha Appropriation Bill, 2021 allowing the state government to spend ₹1.75 lakh crore from its consolidated fund during the financial year 2021-22.

While introducing the Bill, Finance Minister Niranjan Pujari said ₹85,000 crore has been allocated as administrative expenditure, ₹75,000 crore as programme expenditure, ₹3,050 crore as disaster response fund and ₹6,950 crore towards transfers from the state.

He said the passage of the Bill is essential as the funds will be spent for tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and appealed to all the members to pass the Bill.

Pujari said that around ₹8,000 crore has been allocated from off-budget resources like Odisha Mineral Bearing Areas Development Corporation (OMBADC), District Mineral Foundation (DMF) and state PSUs to supplement the budgetary outlay.

He had presented the annual Budget in the Assembly on February 22.

Speaker S N Patro announced that the budgetary demands for grants for 33 departments scheduled for discussion were passed through guillotine before the Appropriation Bill.

Both the opposition BJP and Congress members participated in the discussion before the passage of the Bill.

Goa Spent Bulk of Money for Mining-Affected People on COVID-19 Relief

Science The Wire | March 18, 2021

On April 28, 2018, Devidas Nayak of Molem, a mining-affected village in south Goa, wrote to the authorities managing the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds, explaining that his agricultural land has lost its water holding capacity because the drainage adjacent to the land is full of mining silt resulting in flash floods during the monsoon, making it easy for wild boar and bison to destroy the land.

He sought financial assistance to desilt the nalha, and help in infrastructure for irrigation of his fields. Nayak, who was formerly working with barge transportation (of minerals), had lost his job since the mining industry shut down and needed financial help in protecting his fields. Nearly three years later, on January 6, 2021, his letter was forwarded to Goa’s water resources department for scrutiny.

Nayak’s plea is among nearly 200 such letters since 2018 that are with bodies controlling Goa’s DMF funds. These letters are from individuals, panchayat members, doctors, legislators, and non-profits representing mining-affected villages, requesting financial assistance for basic needs such as drinking water, water for irrigation, restoration of agricultural land, desilting of agricultural land, education, providing transportation for children, and creating health infrastructure – fundamentals of a functioning village. Three years later, while some of these requests have been approved, most are pending or have been deferred indefinitely.

In June 2015, through an amendment in India’s central mining law – the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 2015 – DMFs were introduced in all districts in the country that are affected by mining-related operations, including Goa’s two districts, north and south. These district mineral foundations were tasked with managing and utilising the funds for the interest and benefit of people and areas affected by mining.

DMF funds diverted for COVID-19

According to documents accessed by Mongabay-India, about Rs 202.5 crore was collected under DMF, and of that approximately Rs 42 crore has been spent thus far. However, of this, merely Rs 4 crore has been utilised directly for the mining-affected villages, while the rest of the Rs 38 crore has been diverted towards COVID-19 relief. In March 2020, when the pandemic struck, the central government came out with an order that said that up to 30% of the DMF funds can be diverted towards coronavirus relief work.

But the central government’s move had come under severe criticism from several quarters including from the organisations working with mining-affected communities.

An analysis of the documents reviewed by Mongabay-India reveals that the DMF funds utilised for COVID-19 have gone into purchasing thermal imaging cameras, quattro machines, test kits, personal protective equipment, micro PCR systems – most of the equipment meant to be utilised in COVID-19 hospitals in major cities of Goa: Panjim, Vasco, Ponda and Margao.

Goa has two districts – north, which covers the mining belt, the coastal belt as well as the major cities of Panjim and Mapusa; and south, which also covers the mining belt, the coastal belt and the major cities of Margao, Vasco and Ponda.

The remaining Rs 4 crore went into providing water to mining-affected villages, providing transportation facilities for school children, pumping water out of the mining pits in a few villages, and desilting agricultural land for the village of Sirigao in north Goa. This utilisation, lawyers and activists say, has come only after being slapped by court orders.

“The DMF authorities have done no work for the benefit of the mining-affected villages of their own accord,” Anamika Gode, an environmental lawyer working for Goa Foundation, a non-profit based in Goa, told Mongabay-India. “If you notice, you will see that only water and transportation facilities have been provided thus far, and only one village has had its agricultural land desilted. Work under the DMF has started only after the repeated intervention of the High Court of Bombay at Goa.”

“It took them two years to even consider these applications. And if you notice in the minutes of the meetings, all COVID-related purchase approvals are post-facto,” she added.

In August 2020, two residents of mining-affected villages filed a petition against the Goa government, stating that the DMF funds have been misused by the state government, questioning the legal basis of the diversion of funds, and stated that the mining-affected areas have been completely neglected.

Hanumant Parab, a mining activist from Pissurlem, a mining-affected village in north Goa, said that the DMF had provided their village with 117 water tanks of 500 litres capacity each.

“We are yet to get the water though. They gave us the tankers two years ago but not a drop of water had come from them yet. They need to provide more tankers also,” Parab told Mongabay-India. The village currently depends on an erratic piped water supply from the government, and mining companies are mandated to provide water to some of the wards every day.

South Goa DMF had Rs 97.43 crore in its coffers, and, of that, it used Rs 14.95 crore. And of that, Rs 14.10 crore went towards COVID-19 relief work while the remaining Rs 85 lakh was utilised for providing drinking water to the mining-affected villages in south Goa, and transportation facilities to school-going children.

Indefinite delays and lack of access

Apart from the lack of priority and initiative towards the mining-affected villages, the DMF funds have also been criticised for tardy administration.

According to the minutes of the meeting that took place for North Goa DMF in June 2020, it was decided that all applications will be routed via the concerned departments: water queries to the water resource department, education-related queries to the education department.

However, no information was given about this change, so the individuals would continue to send their applications to the DMF authorities, who would then send them to the department concerned for scrutiny who would then respond if it was worthy of funding or not and a final decision would be taken by the governing council at meetings that are supposed to be held once every three months. Another problem that cropped up was the lack of ease of obtaining information from the website.

“There is no dedicated website for DMF,” said Gode. “Some sporadic information has been provided in PDF documents on the mines department website. How is anyone ever going to update themselves on the status of the application? How will they ever know what happened to their application?” she asked.

“Goa could have been a model state for DMF activity,” she said. “Mining came to a halt, the government had a real opportunity to rehabilitate the villages and we could have really shone because we know that it is possible to bring the fields and water sources alive again and resolve issues, but sadly, the reality is quite different.”

Madhya Pradesh cannot divert funds meant for construction workers’ welfare, Centre tells SC

The Print | Jan 25, 2021

Madhya Pradesh government is seeking a Rs 1000-crore loan from a Rs 1,985-crore corpus that is meant to fund welfare schemes for construction workers.

New Delhi: The central government has opposed Madhya Pradesh government’s application seeking a loan from a fund that finances welfare schemes for construction workers, saying it would amount to diversion of funds.

In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court last week, the Ministry of Labour opposed the BJP-ruled MP government’s application that sought a modification of an earlier SC order, passed in August 2017, that prohibited states from utilising the funds collected under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act, 1996.

In 2017, a bench led by Justice M.B. Lokur (now retired) had directed the central government and states to implement two 20-year-old laws to augment the living conditions of construction workers and their families.

The two laws — the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 (BOCW Act) and the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996 — are meant to regulate employment service conditions of building and construction workers, and provide for safety, health and welfare measures.

However, the Madhya Pradesh government has now sought the apex court’s permission to take a loan of Rs 1,000 crore from the state welfare board that presently has around Rs 1,985 crore in its bank account.

According to the MP government, the state suffered financial losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic with its revenue collection falling by 50 per cent.

The matter was taken up by a bench led by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde Monday.

During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan said the central government had reservations “over diversion of funds.”

“These funds are specifically for vulnerable construction workers,” the ASG told the bench, which then said that it wanted to hear the statutory board, in-charge of the funds, before deciding the plea.

Funds important to sustain welfare schemes — Centre
The central government’s affidavit detailed the mitigating measures it had undertaken to protect the construction workers against economic disruption caused due to the pandemic.

It noted that, among other things, it had issued guidelines to all states to frame a scheme for the transfer of adequate funds to the bank accounts of construction workers through direct benefit transfer from the cess funds collected under the BOCW Act.

According to the affidavit, all state boards have cumulatively disbursed over Rs 5,000 crore to the bank accounts of 1.83 crore building and construction workers (BOC) during the lockdown and thereafter.

“It is submitted that in order to financially sustain these welfare schemes in the long run, with every increasing base of the BOC beneficiaries, the state boards need significant cess fund corpus,” noted the affidavit.

The two laws — BOCW and the Welfare Cess Act, 1996 — provide social security and welfare benefits to construction workers registered as beneficiaries and utilisation of the fund, by way of loan or any other means, for purposes other than those mentioned in the legislations, may not be permissible and tantamount to diversion of funds, the affidavit added.

Even the 2017 judgment came down heavily on states and warned them to ensure there is no diversion of funds, it noted.

Madhya Pradesh to return loan amount once state exchequer replenished
Meanwhile, according to the Madhya Pradesh government, the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, which halted all economic activity, led to an acute decline in the state’s revenue.

“Due to the lockdown and spread of Covid pandemic, the revenue collection of the state in the months from April to June 2020 was only Rs 6,551 crore compared to Rs 12,992 crore in the same months in 2019,” noted the state’s application.

Even mining activity remained suspended, leading to sharp reduction in royalties and other taxes.

The decline in revenue receipts in stamps and registration has been 45 per cent, in state excise it is 57 per cent, while reduction of 20 per cent was seen in revenues and taxes on sale and trade, the MP government said.

“This is resulting in financial resource crunch for the state government, specifically for implementation of welfare schemes and completion of ongoing capital infrastructure projects,” read the application.

It added that since the state welfare board had spent around Rs 376 crore on construction workers in 2019-20, hence a loan of Rs 1,000 crore out of the Rs 1,985-crore corpus would not hinder its functioning.

The state also noted that it will return the loan amount to the corpus once its exchequer is replenished within a year.

On the state’s claim that it had to look after interests of a large number of migrant labourers who returned to MP due to Covid-19, Diwan submitted Monday before the CJI-led bench that such persons will be eligible for the schemes in states where they are registered as construction workers.

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