A decade of deprivation has forced dentists to persistently press for their demands on the streets of Srinagar. But even then they face the finance ministry’s repeated rebuff: “there’s no budget to absorb dental surgeons”.
Ever since Sana Altaf completed her 5-year-long dentistry degree, she has been suffering from a “professional toothache”.
Forced to take a loan to start her own clinic, this dental doctor from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district saw her venture closing as Covid hit Kashmir and messed up the already disrupted things.
Struggling to earn for her family, the doctor would teach at a private school in the morning and come back to run her clinic in the evening. But the school where she taught became shut and stopped her salary.
Unable to pay back her clinic loan, she works late till evening in another clinic where she’s being paid Rs 3000 a month.
But while Sana struggles to earn between the two clinics, she says, quacks are multiplying and calling shots on lesser pay in public health sector in place of well-qualified dental doctors.
“People are bound to get a treatment from quacks in the hospitals without knowing the oral health consequences because it’s inexpensive,” she says.
Jammu and Kashmir government’s failure in creating posts for dentists has led to the rise in private clinics today forcing them to charge at increased costs resulting in the decrease in patient load at their clinics making them more vulnerable to unemployment in the private sector as well.
Notably, not even a single post has been created since 2008 when J&K Public Service Commission (PSC) advertised 360 posts for dental doctors.
Left in the lurch, dental doctors are currently running their own clinics — mostly founded on bank loans.
“I get calls from the bank every day because I haven’t paid my installments for the last four months now,” Dr. Shahnawaz, a dental doctor running a clinic in Qazigund, said.
“We’re stuck in a very difficult situation. Government should come up with a proper policy and framework to absorb the unemployed dental doctors in the public health sector as well under other health schemes and programs. We’ve been listening to their excuse of ‘no finance’ for years now.”
In 2014, J&K Dental Surgeon Association held months’ long protest against the government’s failure to recruit dental doctors in the public health sector leading to the unemployment of almost 7000 dentists in the erstwhile state.
Among these 7000 unemployed dental doctors, almost 700 dentists have crossed the age-limit without applying even once due to the government’s failure in post creation.
As dentists were often assured with “hollow promises” by the former ministers, politicians and governors, the directorate of health services, Kashmir, eventually came up with a proposal in 2014 for the creation of posts of dental surgeons and consultants.
Since 2014, the file bearing dispatch number—HD/PLAN/68/2014—has ended up getting rejected in the J&K finance department time and again because of the “budget constraints” being given as a reason.
It was only in 2018, the file was taken into some sort of consideration and directorate of health services was asked to project a new file with bare minimum number of dentists to be required.
The directorate then requested for 587 posts to be created for the dentists in two phases — 250 posts in one financial year, and 337 in another.
The dispatch number of the file eventually changed to HD/PLAN/68/2018 in 2018.
Post abrogation of Article 370 when J&K was downgraded into two union territories, the ray of hope for dental doctors that they had just started to see, disappeared.
“The government has been repeatedly saying they cannot provide jobs to dental doctors due to the budget issues,” Dr. Imtiyaz, spokesperson of J&K Dental Surgeon Association, said.
“When other professional posts are being created every year, why only dental doctors face these budget constraints? If they can’t recruit us, then what’s the point of investing crores of money in constructing dental colleges and increasing college admissions? Government’s treatment makes it certain that there’s no future for dental doctors in Kashmir.”
This deprivation has been created when there’s a dearth of dental manpower in Kashmir, the spokesperson said.
“Common masses are not able to get the treatment from a well-trained dental doctor because there has not been a dentist available in the public health sector for years now. Government is befooling people by letting these unauthorized dental technicians work in hospitals and run clinics. I mean, what’s the point of our 5-year-long degree when the government is willingly taking quacks only after doing an eighteen-month course?”
According to World Health Organization, the ideal dentist-to-population ratio is 1:7500.
But while India has the second highest number of dentists in the world with the ratio 1:5000, J&K stands at 1:30,000.
This means the region requires 2026 dental doctors in the health sector for the population of 1.52 crores, as of year 2021.
But, the total number of dentists recruited through the PSC in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir (including Ladakh) is only 543 till date.
Presently, J&K is facing the shortfall of 1483 dental doctors.
Among others, National Conference patron, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, recently petitioned Raj Bhavan to work out a mechanism to absorb unemployed dental surgeons in the Health Department and under other National Health Flagship programmes.
But let alone in the public health sector, these dental doctors find no scope for employment even in the schemes, like Ayushman Bharat or National Health Mission.
And yet, every year, hundreds of students from Government as well as Private Dental Colleges in J&K and outside complete their degrees adding to the numbers resulting in thousands of already unemployed dentists creating human burden instead of human resource in J&K.
“We’re ashamed of how our parents are still feeding us,” said Dr. Rukhsana Akram, 35, who along with her dental doctor husband is still unemployed.
“My father-in-law spent every penny on his son to see him settled as a doctor but it’s very unfortunate that my husband isn’t able to give him back what his parents deserve. All we want is our dignity back.”
Dental doctors of Kashmir, she said, have lost their identity by being “parasites” for the last so many years.
“We’ve lost all the respect in society as well as in our own eyes. We’re not looked upon as doctors anymore because we’ve been sitting at home for a decade now after doing so much hard work for years to get the degree.
Today, we’re left with nothing except with the piece of paper that says we’re doctors. It’s very disgusting how dental doctors are being treated in J&K.”
But as these unemployed dental doctors once again hit the streets lately, LG Manoj Sinha offered them a loan of Rs 8 lakh.
Turning it down, J&K Dental Surgeon Association said they’re even being deprived of a single chance to apply for the posts.
LG Sinha’s office and Atal Dulloo, Financial Commissioner, Health and Medical Education, didn’t respond to Free Press Kashmir’s media queries regarding the plight of the dental doctors.
“I’m not meant to answer this question,” Raj Kumar Katoch, Secretary PSC, however, responded, when asked about the recruitment body’s failure in advertising posts. “What do I have to do about it?”
Amid this apathy, Dr. Sana Altaf keeps shuttling between two clinics for survival in her hometown, Anantnag.
“I had never imagined that despite studying so hard, I would be struggling for living like this,” Sana rued.
“Why are dental doctors being given education if they’re not going to recognize us as doctors in the first place? I would have preferred being a dental technician than working hard all these years just to end up being a dental doctor who has no value.”