NEW DELHI: It has been a tough year for Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party government. With the government, L-G and Municipal Corporation of Delhi at loggerheads, and an ever complex relationship between the Centre and the Delhi government, it can safely be said that the launch of Mohalla Clinics is a bold intervention in the crumbling healthcare infrastructure of the country.

The project started simply in March 2016 when the government announced the setting up of 100 clinics in various localities in Delhi with public private partnership. With all guns gone blazing for the primary health care, these mohalla clinics were incubated in small privately-owned rented rooms in the narrowest of lanes of Delhi where on an average day a hundred people line up to access most basic healthcare facilities offered by the government.

It is a zero cost model: free consultation, free diagnosis and free medicines. In each clinic you will find a doctor with a three to five-member assistant staff who hover around him as he (and many cases, a she) asks for a sphygmomanometer, or a thermometer or a file of pills.

On a lazy day, the doctor would let the street children come in to weigh themselves on the new weight machine, but soon would shrug them away as a new patient came by. A mohalla clinic assistant would proudly tell you that the clinic offers 200 various blood tests for free, something that is not is not offered in a government dispensary or most of private clinics in Delhi.

The test results are guaranteed a day or two later—very fast, according to the bar set by government dispensaries. The Delhi government declared in December that this experiment—one of the flagship projects of AAP, has been very successful and that 1000 such clinics will be established all over the capital.

The whole of Munirka village believes that Shoebul Haq, the 29-year old doctor in the local mohalla clinic has never been late. He comes as early as eight in the morning and works till late noon, or till the patients are done, whichever is later.

A conversation with Padma Rai tells me that she is a firm supporter of Bodoland, but has never visited Darjeeling, her native place, since the death of her husband eight years ago. Till a month ago, she used to work as a patient assistant with the Mukherjee Bureau till they realised that she is too old for that now, so she started a momo-corner near the clinic. She boasts: “I was the first patient on the day this clinic started. Since the medicines were free, I got some for my arthritis. I think the doctor is very helpful, he used to work till late evenings when dengue and chickenguniya were on the rise.”

Padma goes on to talk about how she too suffers from chickenguniya pains on her body, and how the doctor makes time for her even though it is a trifle. A rumour has been making rounds in the colony that the doctor will be transferred soon; this news has affected Padma most of all. She asks me to do something so that the transfer does not take place.

After a number of doctors from a number of mohalla clinics disagreed to talk to me, mostly because the “central office at Nangaray had not permitted them to talk to the media,” we catch hold of Dr Yogesh Kumar Singh, who probably did not receive such a circular. He leads the Delhi Cant clinic. “It is only with political support that these clinics can survive. As long as we get medicines, we exist.”

The clinics along with acting as a support base for the dispensaries, reducing the crowds there, attack the quack market where quacks make huge money out of the daily wage labourers who can’t afford to travel distances or spend a whole day waiting at dispensaries. The clinics are also digital where the doctors keep an online record of their patients.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in June had claimed that the clinics have a cure rate of 97 per cent. The rate is yet to be quantified by independent agencies, but for sure it has been a sincere step in the healthcare sector. The establishment of 1000 clinics is a welcome step, provided the quantity obsession of the Indian political class does not do away with the quality of the clinics.