9 years on, SDH Pahalgam remains on paper

Suhail Bhat

Srinagar, Sept 14: Even though nearly nine years have passed since the Government sanctioned much-needed health facilities at the popular tourist destination Pahalgam in South Kashmir, the 50-bed Sub-District Hospital has remained on paper only.
In 2012, the Government approved the construction of hospital at the tourist destination and Pahalgam Development Authority was tasked with locating suitable land. However, an excessive delay in identifying the land stalled the construction of this vital health facility, with residents alleging that official apathy marred the project and dashed the hopes of thousands of residents who were looking forward to better health care in their community.
“All other hospitals sanctioned by the Central Government at the time are now fully operational, whereas the Pahalgam hospital is on paper only. This is an injustice as Government cannot deny people their basic right that is access to better health care,” Isaq Ahmad, a local said.
According to locals, approximately 3000 people are dependent on the single Primary Health Care Centre that is currently operating in Pahalgam, and hundreds of people travel to the nearby District Hospital Anantnag or other hospitals on a daily basis due to insufficient health-care facilities.
“In the absence of a health facility, poor patients are forced to move to other districts and bear exorbitant travel expenses,” a local said, adding that years have passed since the Central Government announced the construction of a sub-district hospital in the area, but authorities have failed to deliver.
He said that they had been repeatedly promised up-gradation of the existing health centre, but that “aside from changing the name of the existing allopathic dispensary, nothing has changed.” The health centre has all of the necessary equipment, but it lacks staff.
“The X-Ray Technician, for example, is in charge of four such dispensaries. During the Amarnath yatra, 15-20 doctors are stationed here, but after that, no one cares. They do not believe we are human here,” said another local.
Pahalgam is widely regarded as Kashmir’s most popular hill station, with thousands of tourists visiting each year. Pahalgam is also a stopover (base camp) for over five lakh pilgrims on their annual pilgrimage to Amarnath cave.
Pilgrims braved the perilous mountain path to see a sacred ice stalagmite formed inside an ages-old cave temple. Several people die or get injured on the dangerous paths every year due to a lack of timely health services.
The land could not be identified, according to an official with knowledge of the details, because the authorities are yet to implement the master plan. “It is impossible to find or spot a location for a hospital without a master plan,” he explained.
He further said that they had repeatedly advised the Government to use the empty building of Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department Corporation’s (JKTDC’s) Yatri Niwas complex is located on Circuit Road Pahalgam as it has a lot of spare land rooms, while the existing hospital building can be given to JKTDC in exchange, but “the proposal was not accepted for unknown reasons.”
According to Mukhtar Ahmad, Chief Medical Officer Anantnag, the foundation stone for the hospital will be laid soon near the old hospital buildings. “Right now, we are clearing an old structure on the site, and then construction on a new one will begin. Construction on the new hospital will begin immediately as funds are available,” he said.