By Farman Ali
Medical profession in Gilgit-Baltistan has been a victim of discrimination as far as advancement in career is concerned since local doctors took over from the army doctors who manned the earliest facilities in the mountains.
It was during the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government in 1970s that seats in medical colleges and other professional institutions were reserved for the students of Gilgit-Baltistan, officially known as Northern Areas, enabling local doctors to replace the army medicos within a few years.
Medical and dental officers were recruited in BPS-17 by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) as in other parts of the country but the similarity ended there. Doctors in Northern Areas have no set rules of promotion or career advancement unlike other groups of civil servants like engineers and administration personnel.
There are examples of father and son working in the same grade, the former after 30 years of service and the son joining service just a few years before his retirement. The first doctor of the health department inducted in BPS-17 retired a few years ago in BPS-18 after completion of 30 years of service while during that period some matriculates starting career as clerks in other departments got promoted to the ranks of deputy secretaries and other executive posts reaching up to BPS-19/20.
Similarly engineers recruited in BPS-17 were promoted to the post of chief engineer or even secretary works without any further postgraduate qualification. But no such service structure exists for medical doctors.
“Without proper service incentives and promotion doctors in the Northern Areas cannot be expected to devote themselves to their work whole-heartedly. Frustration is resulting in sense of deprivation and depression among doctors. Three senior doctors had cardiac arrest and six more doctors have gone through angioplasties for their stress induced cardiac problems,” a senior physician told this reporter.
Although government had decided to bring pay scales and fringe benefits of government employees of Northern Areas at par with their counterparts working in other parts of the country but for unknown reasons this decision still awaits implementation.
The Punjab government decided to introduce service structure for grant of promotion to neglected categories specially doctors.
Accordingly an appropriate percentage of posts in different cadres were upgraded and incumbents were promoted on the basis of required length of service without raising the need to frame fresh rules of recruitment.
In Gilgit-Baltistan service structure of doctors was approved in March 2007 by the Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas division with the directives to finalise seniority lists of each cadre, and placement of some percentage of posts of each cadre in subsequent higher pay scale but after one year no action has been taken. In stead the health department, probably due to misunderstanding or lack of knowledge about the policy/procedure in similar cases adopted by the Punjab government, has started framing fresh recruitment rules which will delay promotions for several years as the new rules will have to be approved before implementation.
In the meantime under the programme of modernising existing and two newly-established District Headquarters hospitals in Gilgit-Baltistan recently, a large number of posts including medical/dental officers and specialists in BPS-18/19 have been created.
The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has demanded that these posts be filled up without delay.
It is feared that as happened in the case of DHQ Hospital Chilas, delay in finalisation of rules may result in the surrender of the vacancies. Ultimately not only doctors will be deprived of appointment/promotion opportunity but the people of Northern Areas will again fail to expand their health care system.
It is difficult to understand why the rules prevalent in Punjab and other provinces cannot be adopted in Gilgit-Baltistan. As a consequence of official neglect many doctors are leaving government service to work with private clinics while the appointment of specialists in government hospitals has been delayed. The health facilities are already deficient in the region. There is no sense if these are further depleted through red tape and discriminatory policies.