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Friday, February 8, 2008

Minister for hurt

When my friend TJS George, founder editor of Asiaweek titled his collection of political essays as 'Politics - The first refuge of scoundrels' no eyebrows were raised. Normally this is what people think about politicians. And their actions further reinforce such perceptions, though exceptions shall always remain. So, when the Supreme Court asked the central government why it was so adamant to remove one person from the directorship of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the state power looked silly and this too didn't surprise the people or the media. That the entire Union government would concentrate its energies to ensure the removal of one single individual from the post he is occupying through the government's order itself is a mockery of the entire governance and a sad reflection on the sincerity of rulers. The only other example of this nature can be cited of Shah Bano's, whose fault was that she was a Muslim and none of the Muslim organisations wanted her to get a meagre twenty-five rupees per month alimony. So, to nullify the Supreme Court's orders to this effect, the Rajiv Gandhi government brought a legislation in Parliament. That, too, triggered a debate on the rights and duties of the Supreme Court and this time, too, Parliament and the media are getting busy to debate the eternal question – which is supreme, Parliament or the judiciary? First we must pay left-handed compliments to the Union Minister of Health, Anbumani Ramadoss, who has never shown this kind of focussed zeal and resolve for establishing new hospitals and rejuvenating the AIIMS-like medical institutes scheme envisaged in the NDA rule during Sushma Swaraj's tenure as health minister. That would have eased the burden on the AIIMS, Delhi and provided quality healthcare in at least six major states. Nothing happened to that. Delhi is having some of the worst public hospitals and if it is to be believed, not a single public hospital has been opened here since 1966. All that we see is the continuous growth of new private nursing homes, hospitals and medical care centres, mostly catering to the rich and the famous. They look more like five-star hotels than a place of serious medical care and somehow manage to have a politician to inaugurate their money-making machines labelled as hospitals. So why should a politician bother to improve public hospitals, till he and his family gets free treatment in the five-star centres of healthcare?
Anbumani has weird ideas about healthcare, so in a sudden impulse he decided that doctors should be made to serve in rural areas for one year. On the face of it, the scheme sounds good, specially when we see a large number of medical practitioners acting more like butchers, forgetting the solemn oath that they have taken to serve the patients, but pray, what a doctor, that too a practitioner of allopathic system of medicine and surgery, would do in a rural area where the basic facilities of healthcare remain completely absent? In fact, the government should have focussed on the preventive healthcare structure banking more on time-tested Ayurvedic, Unani and nature care systems that are easily accessible for a common person while creating a sound and functional infrastructure for allopathic stream requiring X-ray, clinical tests, operation theatre and mobile vans. Many voluntary organisations have done inspiring work in this field and I must mention the pioneering models created in healthcare by the IIT, Madras, under guidance of Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala. But nothing of this sort inspires or fuels the imagination of our minister, otherwise supposed to be taking care of people’s health. He loves to hurt more and hurt with a resolve that would shame many of the steel-framed police officers hounding the terrorists and eliminating them in encounters. Anbumani trained his entire arsenal on one cardiologist who is respected as an iconic figure amongst patients and his students. I don't know how much respect this 'Minister of Hurt' commands in his own ministry, but certainly a more civil and modest person would have resigned after a series of Supreme Court strictures and comments on his conduct. Even otherwise, the whole episode betrays a lack of sensitivity on part of the UPA leaders, the Prime Minister and the President who okayed the bill to remove AIIMS Director, Venugopal, perhaps without giving a serious thought to it. Here is exactly where the quality and statesmanship of the nation's leadership is put to test. Dr. Venugopal, the cardiovascular surgeon par excellence who did the first heart transplant in India in 1994, received the Indira Priyadarshihni Award and the Padma Bhushan from this government. He helped people, commoners and poor, to get a new lease of life working at a low salary compared to his achievements and stature. His appointment letter reads like this -- Dr. P. Venugopal, Dean and Chief of Cardio Thoracic Centre and Professor of Cardio Thoracic and Vascular Surgery, Is hereby appointed as director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences , New Delhi for a period of five years .............(he) will get a pay of Rs. 26,000/-(fixed) plus non-practicing allowance (NPA) at the rate of 25% of the basic pay subject to the condition that pay plus NPA doesn't exceed Rs 29,000/- per month... This was the doctor Anbumani Ramadoss was gunning for. Till now, the minister has not been able to cite one single reason for his zidd (stubbornness) to remove Dr. Venugopal. The employees and the patients know that it’s the lust for power that is responsible. In turn, patients would suffer, a premier institute already cracking up under severe burden of medical cases pouring in from every corner of the land and even abroad would die in efficacy and credibility but the Prime Minister, UPA chairperson and the Leftist supporters will smile because they would have won a battle against an individual. Wow, viva new statesmanship of the futuristic Gen X! Now that the powers of Parliament have been used to remove one single person, ultimately, even in this removal the victory belonged to the sacked Dr. Venugopal and in turn, Indian Parliament and upholders to the Constitution are shamed. In times like this when barbarism and civil violations have become a routine affair, such incidents further erode people's trust in governance as a tool of relief and public good. More than hundred innocents are killed by Blueline buses, nothing is shaken up, terrorist attacks continue and a Chief Minister openly accuses the central government for intelligence failure, tea garden tribals demand constitutional status in a rally in Guwahati and are beaten to pulp in ghastly manner, a young girl is stripped in the market and forced to walk, no action is taken against the culprits in a state which sends the Prime Minister to the Upper House. The government openly advertises and distributes student scholarships to non-Hindus, thereby creating more fissures and widening the already existing gulf between communities. It doesn't show firmness in handling terrorists and providing better basic infrastructure in health and education in the rural areas, but the rich and powerful float in their stinking money pools. The nation belongs to the common people, but is run by the rich, for the rich.

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