Taking over hospitals

May 25, 2019

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THE government in Sindh has another battle on its hands. The centre has notified its takeover of three major hospitals in Karachi, while reminding all that the handover was necessitated by a Supreme Court judgement. Be that as it may, the move can hardly conceal the tensions that exist between the PPP dispensation in Sindh and those its leaders accuse of undermining their right to rule in utter disregard of the basic concepts of provincial autonomy. The hospitals in question — Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, and the National Institute of Child Health — happen to be perhaps the busiest healthcare units in Karachi. In recent times, and under the provincial administration, many aspects of these hospitals have improved. On the other hand, the government of Sindh has been frequently taken to task over its inability to generally and comprehensively improve the health sector in the province in aid of the suffering masses. This fact may have made it easier for many to look approvingly at the transfer of these three prominent institutions from Sindh — which had been empowered to run them after the passage of the 18th Amendment — back to the federal government. But other impressions have been formed as well as the PPP politicians led by Mr Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speak out in frustration against what they term as discrimination and contempt of the law.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari called the centre’s move “an attack on hard-earned provincial autonomy”. Most significantly, he pointed out that it was an arrogant action by the federal government as a review petition against the Supreme Court order pertaining to the transfer of these hospitals was still pending. The warning that resistance to the handover would grow may be a serious one but will not necessarily make an impact on the authorities in Islamabad. If anything, the signs are that the engines for ‘change’ are being revved up as the pressure on the PTI government to deliver on its promises grows. At a time when the opposition is threatening the government with agitation, why would the PTI want to be seen as pressing on sternly with ‘pending’ tasks, such as the takeover of hospitals? This could well lead to a confrontation. Those who are aware of the price we may all end up paying are hoping that good sense and greater clarity over the issue of provincial autonomy will prevail without a showdown.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2019