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September 14, 2013

The Bengal model for Maa, Mati, Manush

In the wake of the present economic condition in the country where the common man is striving hard to meet the basic necessities of life like food and medicine, it is incredible how the Maa, Mati, Manush Government of West Bengal, against all odds, is making utmost effort to reduce the burden on the people of the state.

Nationwide the plight and misery of the common man is the same and it is seeking mercy from the sky-high price of essential commodities. The situation would have been no different for the people of West Bengal had the State Government not reacted to the issue with a humanitarian outlook. There have been a number of interventions by the State Government to reduce the burden on the people of the State. 

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has introduced the concept of `fair price` – to combat the constant price rise in both food items and medical services. It is a mechanism to keep the prices of essential commodities under control and set up a pricing benchmark to be followed by the market. The fair price stalls are gentle reminder to the traders – don`t inflate the prices, people have an alternative.

Fair price Food Carts

The State Government has set up food cart all across the capital. There are about 21 mobile food carts or vans moving across the city of Kolkata. These mobile vans are selling poultry, fish, vegetables and fruits at reasonable prices, much lower than the market price.

During the holy month of Ramadan these `fair Price` mobile vans sold fruits as well. Usually during this time of the year, the prices of fruits soar because of the high demand. These carts have kept fruits within the reach of ordinary citizens. 

This initiative has drawn a positive response from the consumers and hence it is an accomplishment. This initiative also shows how governments can take a proactive stance to ease the burden of the common man.

Besides this initiative the Chief Minister has also set up a Task Force that regulates the price of food produce from time to time in various markets of the State.

The Chief Minister herself also pays surprise visits to the daily markets to get an accurate picture of the reality.

In yet another initiative to curb the accelerating price of food items the Mamata Banerjee government announced a scheme to allow big private investors to directly procure farm produce. The scheme titled Brihat Krishak Bazar Yojana or the mega farmer market programme, seeks to connect the local market to high-growth demand centres and weed out middlemen.

A study by Global AgriSystems in four metros, including Kolkata, zeroed in on middlemen – no less than five to six in every veggie trade – and the `dada tax` (protection levy). The study also points out that 15-25% of the vegetable produce is wasted due to lack of storage.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee`s plan to set up a Brihat Krishi Bazar in every district may prove to be the perfect solution. Brihat Krishak Bazar will be set up in every district and a sum of Rs 150 crore will be invested to set up the centres.  The state government will give the private developers licenses to procure, store and process agriculture produce under the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act.

The objective of the scheme is to pave way for investments in the post-harvest infrastructure in Bengal. The overall goal is to pass on maximum share of consumers` returns to the primary producers or to increase the earnings of farmers.

This initiative also vouches for the Chief Minister`s pro FDI stance.

Fair price medicine shops 

The ill practices and the unaffordable services of the medical world are extensive and known to all. A menace that the doctors should have rather curbed, fueled it instead. Doctors recommend medication without taking the cost into consideration. A common tablet prescribed for diabetics can be made available to patients for Rs. 30 per strip instead of Rs. 170 – if only the generic name was known and it was prescribed accordingly. A patient can save up to Rs. 140.

Another example is the commonly used medicine for high blood pressure, which costs Rs 94.90 for 15 tablets. The same medicine can be made available to patients for Rs. 22 per strip – if only the generic name was known and it was prescribed accordingly. So the patient can save Rs. 73. The list of examples can go on. 

Fair Price Medicine Shops are a definitive way forward for the common man, but before that, the common man needed to be freed from the clutches of a corrupt medical system that has a debilitating effect on the psyche, even as it drains every last penny in their pockets. 

The government is also selling stents, a vital device for cardiac patients, through these outlets offering a mammoth 67 % discount on the MRP of the life-saving device. The devices are priced at Rs. 19,000 and Rs. 36,000 each while the MRP is Rs. 60,000 (chromium-cobalt device) and Rs 1,10,000 (drug eluting device). Competing products in the market cost around Rs. 1.20-Rs 1.30 lakh. Private sector hospitals almost always use these products. The State Government is also planning to sell insulin for 54% less at these fair price medicine shops. 

So the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee besides introducing the concept of Fair Price Medicine Shops in Kolkata last year also made it clear that doctors cannot prescribe medicine names but have to prescribe the generic names of medicines.

People welcomed the initiative. The government wishes to open 35 fair price medicine shops across the state, of which 24 are already operational. This initiative has bought much-needed relief to people who are burdened with rising costs in almost all fields. 

Fair Price Medicine Shops set up in the various government hospitals by West Bengal government have attracted the attention of the Centre. Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have appreciated the move taken by the Mamata Banerjee government for patients to get medicines with up to 67 per cent discount on MRP. In a letter to all the state governments, Union Ministry of Health has asked other state governments to follow the West Bengal model for the benefit of poor patients. 

The West Bengal government is also planning to launch Fair Price Diagnostic Centers by early next year at the government hospitals in the state. Patients can avail important diagnostic procedures like Digital X-ray at minimal prices at these centers. Dialysis would cost between Rs 700 and Rs 500, whereas CT scan would cost Rs 525; MRI for the brain can be performed for Rs 2250. 

This would force a complete overhauling of the health sector, by ushering in price restructuring even by private diagnostic centers. More people would be able to afford treatment and sustain it. It would give the much needed fillip to the health sector and would benefit a large number of people in the state.

Here is a list of fair price outlets as published by the State Government Health & Family Welfare Department