The UPA Government’s flagship scheme, the National Rural Health Mission, has been yielding some positive results, but it is marred by the scarcity of doctors at primary health centres, the lifeline for over 70 per cent of India’s population.

As on March 2011, out of the total 30,051 sanctioned posts, only 23,239 were filled, leaving 7,246 unfilled posts. At the all-India level, there were about 24 per cent vacancies for doctors, says a recent analysis of Government figures done by PRS Legislative Research, a Delhi-based research organisation.

Chhattisgarh had the maximum vacancies of 71 per cent, with only 424 occupied posts of doctors out of the sanctioned 1,482. West Bengal came next with 801 vacancies (41 per cent) out of 1,807 sanctioned posts, followed by Maharashtra, which had 1,326 vacancies against 3,618 sanctioned posts. Uttar Pradesh, too, has 1,648 vacancies for doctors out of 4,509 sanctioned posts, says the PRS analysis.

Rajasthan had the lowest vacancies at only 0.4 per cent, followed by Andhra Pradesh (3 per cent) and Kerala (7 per cent).

Nine States do not have any doctor vacancies at all at the PHC level, which include Bihar, Jharkhand and Punjab, the analysis said.

In rural areas, public health centres are supposed to be provided for every population of 30,000 in the plains and 20,000 in the hills. Generally, each centre is required to have one medical officer and 14 other staff.

Little response

It may be recalled that the Union health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had suggested making it mandatory for doctors to serve in rural areas for one year.

In a reply to a Lok Sabha question early this year, Azad had said that his Ministry had launched 50 per cent reservation in postgraduate courses for serving MBBS doctors who opt for a three-year stint in rural areas, but it had evoked no response.

“I say it with regret that our doctors have decided not to go to the rural areas. Nobody has come forward to make use of the incentives,” he had said in his reply.