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Ramakanta Biswas

Bhubaneswar: The 108 emergency ambulance service, which is regarded as the lifeline in the healthcare system, often hogs the headlines due to its alleged failure to provide timely service to patients during emergency. However, it is in news once again but this time due to alleged irregularities in operations.

A Right to Information (RTI) application, which is accessed by OTV, hints at massive irregularities in the ambulance service in the State. As per the RTI reply, a 108 ambulance under Dhamnagar police of Bhadrak district covered 1650 kilometre distance on March 10 last year. However, the ambulance driver claimed the vehicle can run only 500 to 600 km a day.

“We can run the ambulance at a maximum speed of 60 kmph which means we can travel 500 to 600 km per day. During Covid-19 lockdown, the number of patients was far less and now it is increasing gradually,” said the driver.

This is not the sole case. The 108 ambulance of the district headquarters hospital at Jeypore in Koraput district also travelled an unusual 1736 kilometre on March 10 last year.

“We basically travel to Jeypore, Koraput and Ramgiri area and cover a distance of 500 to 600 throughout the day,” said the ambulance driver, Debendra Dalei.

It was alleged that 400 out of the total 512 ambulances have furnished false information regarding their travelling.

Satyabrata Das, spokesperson of Odisha Ambulance Service Workers Association said, “Ambulances in coastal areas cover maximum distance while taking patients to SCB Medical College and Hospital which is the referral hospital in the area while the ambulances of western Odisha visit VIMSAR, Burla. Similarly, ambulances of southern region take patients to Berhampur. So, it is impossible to cover 1800 km a day.”

According to sources, Mumbai-based Ziqitza Health Care Limited is providing ambulance service in Odisha since 2013. As per the agreement, the firm is charging Rs 24.98 per km.

Ironically, the scam by the private firm is not new. Earlier, when the firm was being given money on the basis of trips, it used to furnish record of whopping 23 to 36 trips per day which is impossible.

However, Ziqitza Health Care Limited project head, Odisha Sabyasachi Biswal claimed there must be some error in data interpretation.

“The travelling of ambulances is tracked by a third party software device and not in our control. The figure is recorded via GPS directly. If any ambulance recorded 1700 to 1800 km travel a day, there must be error in data interpretation,” he said.

Meanwhile, questions are being raised how the government is unaware of the irregularities given the fact that GPS tracking system is installed in the ambulances. A monitor of the GPS tracking system is also installed at the National Health Mission office.

(Edited By Pradeep Singh)

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