Dr. Nirmal Maji, a powerful minister in Mamata Banerjee government and sitting president of West Bengal Medical Council (WBMC) did not appear before the Special Court (for MLAs/MPs) in Barasat, Kolkata to face criminal charges in two separate cases as his lawyers claimed that Dr. Maji was too ill with “knee problems”. The two cases against Dr. Maji were filed in 2018 by PBT president, Dr. Kunal Saha, for alleged money laundering (under IPC section 409) and criminal defamation (IPC section 500/501). Dr. Maji has already surrendered in both cases as he remains free on bail. The first case emerged from Dr. Maji’s role in hatching a shocking plan to dialysis of a pet dog at the state’s premier tertiary care center, SSKM Hospital in Kolkata while the second case emerged after it was found out that Dr. Maji was using funds from state medical council to cover expenses related to his personal litigations. The Special Court has adjourned both cases to 21st March, 2020.
In a historic decision passed by the division bench president by the chief justice in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by PBT president Dr. Kunal Saha, Calcutta High Court has directed the West Bengal Bar Council (WBBC) to investigate the complaint lodged by Dr. Saha and to take appropriate disciplinary action against the leaders of West Bengal Bar Association (WBBA) for organizing a massive strike by lawyers that crippled regular court services between March-May, 2018. Supreme Court of India has time and again held that people who are associated with essential and emergency public services such as doctors and lawyers may not go on “strike” holding the ordinary people at ransom. Based on this Apex Court’s categorical directions against “lawyers’ strike”, Dr. Saha lodged a formal complaint with the WBBC against the Bar Association president and secretary for calling the illegal strike. After Bar Council remained absolutely silent without initiating any investigation, Dr. Saha filed PIL in Calcutta HC that was disposed of last week by the division bench that may have major implications on future strikes by advocates (see HC order below).
Last year, Oxford University Press published a book “Healers or Predators?”, a compilation of insightful articles by prominent medical personalities and social activists. A review of this book was published this week focusing on several critical areas of Indian healthcare delivery system that must be reformed for any improvement of the falling standard of medical ethics and doctor-patient relationship even after the enactment of the far-reaching National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill by Indian government (see the review at this link https://www.downtoearth.org.in/reviews/iatrogenesis-unbound-review-of-healers-or-predators–67614).
Among the most important problem areas in Indian medical system, wide-spread corruption in health regulatory bodies including medical councils and a bungling medical justice system where cases of medical negligence are kept languishing for decades in the Consumer Courts even though the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (under which cases of medical negligence against doctors/hospitals are decided) contemplated that all cases in Consumer Courts should be decided as fast as possible within a period of only six months. As several authors have echoed, until healthcare corruption is eradicated and medical justice system, both by the peers in medical councils and by the consumer courts) is reformed assuring the ordinary people for speedy and equitable justice against the negligent medicos to restore public trust, the sagging image of doctor-patient relationship will not change.
In a major development that may have far-reaching impact on the disruption of hospital services through frequent calls for “doctors’ strike” by Indian Medical Association (IMA) and other influential medical groups, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mr. S.A. Bobde in Supreme Court of India admitted a “Contempt” petition and issued notices against the IMA and Union of India. This Contempt case was filed by PBT following a nation-wide “doctors’ strike” called by the IMA earlier this year to demonstrate solidarity to the strike called by doctors at NRS Hospital in Kolkata. Countless patients in government hospitals, many from poor families, suffered pain, injuries and even deaths because of disruption in hospital services due to this strike by doctors.
In 2014, another three-judge bench in the Apex Court passed a final judgment (in response to a separate PIL against the IMA by PBT) holding that doctors should not resort to “strike” under any condition and medical councils must take disciplinary action against the striking doctors. Despite such categorical direction from the highest court of the land, IMA has continued to call “doctors’ strike” holding the vulnerable patients at ransom in order to settle their scores against the government to satisfy valid (e.g. against mob violence) as well as purely selfish (e.g. seeking raise in salary) grounds. Although PBT has always objected to any physical attacks on our healers, no patient deserves to suffer or die as a result of strike by doctors. This unprecedented “Contempt” petition was filed by PBT to bring justice for the hapless patients of India (see the news below).
Ashwani Diwan and his family were devastated when his 61-year old father was declared dead last December by doctors at Apollo Gleneagles Hospital in Kolkata after several months of hope for a recovery and a whopping more than Rs. 60 lakh hospital bill. There were numerous evidences of negligent and unethical treatment by the Apollo doctors. Like so many other victims of medical negligence, they also came to PBT seeking help in their quest for justice for Ashwani’s departed father. Formal complaints against several doctors including Dr. S.N. Singh (Neurosurgeon) and Dr. Tanweer Shahid (Oncologist) have already been lodged before various authorities including the medical council.
Last week, Ashwani received a letter from the office of Fox & Mandal, an influential law firm in Kolkata, demanding 20 crore rupees on behalf of Dr. Singh and Dr. Shahid allegedly for posting some comments about the wrongful death of his father on his personal Facebook page. Like all other democratic countries, citizens of India are also fully protected for freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of Indian Constitution as held repeatedly by Supreme Court of India. Everybody has a right to express his or her opinion freely and without any fear even though his/her opinion may be contradicted by others and may eventually be proven to be wrong by a competent court of law. On the other hand, nobody has a right to threaten or retaliate claiming astronomical sum of money through gross abuse of the process of law in order to muzzle the voices of victims of alleged medical negligence as appear in this case against the hapless Diwan family. PBT strongly denounces such sinister attempts by the two Apollo doctors and has already sent a protest letter to the Fox & Mandal asking to to refrain from their effort to extract Rs. 20 crore from Diwan family (see news below).
Dr. Nirmal Maji, powerful minister of the ruling Trinomul-Congress party and president of West Bengal Medical Council (WBMC) along with Dr. Rajendra Pandey (sitting vice-chancellor of Health University in West Bangla) and Dr. Pradip Kumar Mitra, ex-Director of Health Services in West Bengal, hatched a sinister plan to perform dialysis of a pet dog putting potential and serious danger to the lives of the numerous patients who undergo dialysis in the same machine back in 2015. Although a possible medical calamity was avoided because of last minute intervention by some other doctors that eventually stopped the dog’s dialysis on that occasion, public outrage erupted against this gigantic scandal by the top medical leaders in Kolkata as highly publicized by the local and national media more than 4 years ago. However, like most other scandals by influential political leaders in India, nothing really changed and nobody suffered any consequences as this dog-dialysis scandal went into a slumber.
PBT, through its president Dr. Kunal Saha, raged a long-drawn battle to bring justice to this unimaginable medical fiasco as Dr. Saha lodged complaint with the medical council against Dr. Maji, Dr. Pandey and Dr. Mitra seeking exemplary disciplinary action against the three doctors. After fighting for more than four years for justice during which the complaint was shuttled for numerous times between the state medical council (WBMC) and Medical Council of India (MCI), the central medical council passed a final order last week essentially agreeing with the allegations raised by Dr. Saha and holding all three doctors guilty for orchestrating the plan to perform dialysis of a pet dog at the SSKM Hospital. But shockingly, MCI did not award any real punishment to any of the guilty doctors except issuing a warning that they should not indulge in similar activities in future on the ground that nobody was harmed as a result of the dangerous plan by the three doctors. PBT is planning to challenge the MCI order for their failure to impose any tangible punishment to the three errant doctors that is likely to send a wrong signal to the public at large (see the news below).
The new NMC Act, 2019 was enacted into law last month with publication in the official Gazette as the old Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 was repealed by the government. The Medical Council of India (MCI) was also disbanded as most regular functions of MCI are in limbo including adjudication of appeals (under section 8.8 of old MCI Code of Ethics & Regulations, 2002) by the hapless victims of alleged medical negligence against doctors acquitted by the state medical councils. The section 8.8 (became a law only in 2004 as a result of Supreme Court’s direction in the PIL (SC W.P. No. 317/2000) filed by PBT) was framed to give an opportunity to challenge the victims whose complaint against the errant doctor was dismissed (which is vast majority of the cases) by an often biased and one-sided decision by doctor-members in the state medical council.
But section 8.8 stipulate that any challenge to the verdict by the state medical council must be made within a maximum period of 60 days. There is no functioning MCI for the past more than 30 days. Under section 27(d) of the new NMC Act, although an aggrieved victim may lodge an appeal within 30 days to the Ethics & Medical Registration Board against an adverse decision by the state medical council, but no Ethical Board exists at the present moment and there is little hope that any such Board would be constituted in the near future as even the selection of the 33 NMC members (who in turn would form the Ethical Board) seems to be in a turmoil, possibly due to political posturing and infighting within the health ministry. But the obvious question – soon 60 days will be over for any victim whose complaint of medical negligence was dismissed by the state medical council – where will they go to appeal against any biased decision by the state medical council? The game is rigged by the influential and wealthy hospitals/doctors who would be shielded as before. The new NMC Act, 2019 is nothing more than putting an old wine in a new bottle.
Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called nation-wide “doctors’ strike” on Wednesday (July 31, 2019) in protest of the proposed National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill even as a “Contempt” case against the IMA leaders for calling another “strike” last month is pending before the Apex Court. PBT recently filed the “Contempt” against IMA after the medical association called a nation-wide doctors’ strike on June 17, 2019 in support of Kolkata doctors’ protest against alleged mob violence.
In 2012, PBT filed a PIL in the Supreme Court (W.P. No. 253/2012) against the IMA after several patients died following a “doctors’ strike” that disrupted hospital services in Delhi and across India. In a landmark judgment dated 11th November, 2014, a three-judge bench of the Apex Court held that strike by doctors “may amount to negligence warranting action for misconduct“. Supreme Court also held that doctors should not go on a strike for any reason. Five years later, IMA has continued to ignore the Apex Court’s direction by joining strike to settle their score against the government taking the defenseless patients at ransom. While the proposed NMC Bill may have serious flaws, PBT strongly denounces the “doctors’ strike” tomorrow because it is wrong, both legally and morally.
For the past several years, PBT president Dr. Kunal Saha, a permanent resident of USA, travels to India every year to appear and argue in consumer courts on behalf of victims of medical negligence who come to PBT to help them find medical justice. Supreme Court of India had already said categorically that non-advocates and NGOs are permitted to argue on behalf of others before the consumer courts in India. PBT lodged a contempt case against National Consumer Forum (NCDRC) in 2012 for not framing rules for non-advocates to appear for victims of medical negligence and Apex Court had directed NCDRC to frame such rules to allow so that non-advocates and NGOs can represent consumers including victims of medical negligence as “authorized representative” in NCDRC, State and District Consumer Courts.
When Dr. Saha came last December and appeared to represent victims of medical negligence before the West Benga State Consumer Commission, he was viciously attacked by large number of lawyers who wanted him to be ousted from the court. Police complaint was lodged and a writ petition was filed in Calcutta High Court in which notice was issued to the State Consumer Court. When Dr. Saha appeared before the Kolkata Consumer Court last week for an alleged victims of medical negligence, he again faced brutal attack from the lawyers appearing for the accused doctor and hospital who demanded that Dr. Saha be barred from the consumer court. The Kolkata State Consumer Court passed an order directing the protesting lawyers to file a formal application seeking to bar Dr. Saha on next day of hearing on 17th July, 2019 (see Order below). But when this matter came up on 17th July, 2019, the same lawyers wanted more time to file the application knowing well that Dr. Saha lives in USA and cannot be staying in India for indefinite period of time. However, court has given more time for the advocates (for doctor/hospital) to file application. Other cases where Dr. Saha has appeared to plead for the victims of medical negligence, advocates for doctors/hospitals have routinely started to clamor with the unlawful claim that Dr. Saha should not be allowed to appear for victims of medical negligence. PBT and Dr. Saha has given sworn affidavits many times in the past stating that all the help that they have been providing victims of medical negligence including Dr. Saha’s travel and stay in India and his personal appearance in court are done completely free of cost at PBT and Dr. Saha’s own expense. The main question that writ at large : Why are the powerful advocates representing the accused doctors and hospitals are fighting to stop Dr. Saha to argue in court on behalf of victims of medical negligence? Does the powerful medical lobby including the Indian Medical Association (IMA) have any role in this shocking attacks against Dr. Saha?
Outlook (July 10, 2019)A new contempt of court petition was filed by PBT against the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and Ministry of Health for the nation-wide doctors’ strike last month (see news below). Doctors went on a nation-wide strike on 17th June, 2019 to express solidarity to the Kolkata doctors who were continuing strike to protest alleged attack on some junior doctors at NRS Medical College by some friends and relatives of a patient who died due to alleged medical negligence. Although PBT never condones physical violence on doctors and hospitals even in the event of genuine medical negligence, innocent patients should not be held at ransom by doctors’ strike that disrupts hospital services and brings endless pain, suffering and death to the ailing citizens.
Following a “doctors’ strike” in 2012 when a number of patients had died in Delhi, PBT filed a PIL against the IMA in the Supreme Court (SC W.P. No. 253/2012) when the Apex Court had categorically held that doctors should not go on strike under any condition. Despite such unequivocal observation from the Supreme Court, IMA showed no regard to the Apex Court’s judgment when they called another nation-wide doctors’ strike last month in a clearly contemptuous display against the Apex Court. PBT has filed this PIL this week to hold IMA and Health Ministry in contempt of the Apex Court. PBT president Dr. Kunal Saha is in India to plead for victims of medical negligence in different consumer courts and it is expected that he will appear before the Supreme Court to argue the “contempt” case in the next couple of weeks.
In a brazen display of shamelessness and gross abuse of power, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee hailed the most tainted Indian physician, Dr. Sukumar Mukherjee, who was found guilty for gross medical negligence causing death of Anuradha Saha by the Supreme Court of India in the highest-ever malpractice in Indian medicolegal history, and gave him a “life-time achievement award” plus Rs. 2 lakh cash reward in a massive public ceremony to celebrate “Doctors’ Day” on Monday (July 1) (see picture below as Dr. Mukherjee sitting next to Ms. Mamata Banerjee). While holding Dr. Mukherjee responsible for Anuradha’s death with scathing criticism in a historic judgment in 2009 and awarding highest compensation in 2013, Apex Court also dubbed Dr. Mukherjee’s behavior as a man “unbecoming of a doctor” who has brought “great disrespect to the medical profession”. A case is currently pending in the Supreme Court against Mamata Banerjee (SLP Civil No. 33178/2012; Kunal Saha vs. Mamata Banerjee & Ors.) for her role in choosing Dr. Mukherjee as the “chief adviser” for the state government. Another PIL against the state-run Calcutta University will also come up for final hearing on 18th July for giving an honorary D.Lit. to Dr. Mukherjee in violation of Article 144 of Indian Constitution that has a mandate that all authorities, civil and judicial, must always act in aid of Supreme Court. Attempts to glorify a tainted doctor like Dr. Mukherjee who was held as a negligent and unethical doctor by the Apex Court undermines sanctity of the Supreme Court of India in the eyes of the ordinary people.
After one week of continuous “doctors’ strike” that virtually crippled entire medical system in West Bengal and across India causing endless pain, suffering and even death of many patients, doctors have finally withdrawing the strike to resume regular hospital services on Tuesday. Following two separate PILs filed by PBT in 2006 and 2012, Supreme Court of India declared categorically that doctors have no right to go on “strike” for any reasons and medical council should take disciplinary action against any striking doctors. Without caring the Apex Court’s repeated directions, IMA and other powerful medical groups have frequently resort to “doctors’ strike” to settle their scores with the government and hospital authorities. While PBT has always denounced any attempt of physical violence against doctors, disruption of hospital services through strike by doctors is immoral, unethical and against the law.
IMA needs to appreciate the root cause of occasional physical violence against doctors by ordinary, peace-loving and law-abiding citizens after witnessing shocking death of their loved one due to gross medical negligence, real or perceived. A complete lack of trust on doctors for getting justice by the medical regulatory authority (medical council) and inherent flaws in the judicial system with endless delays in legal cases against the powerful medicos have resulted in a hopeless situation for the ordinary victims of medical negligence. Doctors’ strike is over for now, but who will pay for those victims who have already lost their loved ones due to this doctors’ strike. PBT is going to ask the court to direct the government compensate the victims. PBT is also planning to lodge a new “Contempt of court” case against the IMA for blatant violation of the Apex Court’s order. The peril of doctor-bashing and “doctors’ strike” are likely to recur again until a complete overhaul is done with the medical regulatory system to regain public trust on our healers.
Calcutta High Court has directed the West Bengal State to file a comprehensive report within 7 days as to what steps the government is taking to end the ongoing “doctors’ strike” in Kolkata that has crippled medical services in hospitals across the state for the past 5 days. The court has also reminded the doctors that they have taken Hippocratic Oath and should not join in any strike to deprive the patients from treatment. This order was passed on Friday (Jun 14) in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by PBT that has also claimed that Supreme Court has already declared (in 2014 in response to another PIL filed by PBT in the Apex Court) that doctors have no right to go on a strike and if they do, disciplinary action must be taken against the striking doctors. PBT president Dr. Kunal Saha personally appeared on behalf of PBT to argue this PIL on Friday (see news below).
In the meantime, under pressure from ongoing strike and disrupted medical services, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has appointed four senior doctors headed by Dr. Sukumar Mukherjee, the grossly tainted and convicted by Supreme Court for Anuradha Saha’s death, to negotiate with the striking doctors. Ever since Apex Court found Dr. Mukherjee guilty for medical negligence causing death of Anuradha Saha and awarded highest compensation in Indian medical history in 2013, Banerjee government has been trying desperately to promote Dr. Mukherjee to repair his dented public image. This 85-year old Kolkata doctor was given the highest state award in medicine in 2014 (“Bangabhibushan”), awarded an honorary D.Lit. by the Calcutta University in 2018 and was also chosen as the “chief advisor” for the government. Separate cases are still pending against the Bengal government for gross abuse of power at the present moment.
Biplab Pal, 32-year old only son of a poor mother, Bula Pal, died in 2014 from alleged botched gall-bladder surgery at R.G. Kar Medical College & Hospital in Kolkata. After the victim’s family came to PBT seeking help, a complaint was lodged before the W.B. State Consumer Forum. Court sent numerous notices to the premier government medical college and accused doctors (Drs. P. Mukherjee, S. Lahiri and Tanusree Chakraborty) over a period of 3-4 years but the accused doctors and R.G. Kar hospital simply ignored these notices and remained absolutely silent. Finally, a judgment was passed by the State Commission after going through the merit of the case holding the doctors/hospital guilty for medical negligence and allowed a compensation of Rs. 46 lakh.
Ironically, soon after the judgment was delivered and it was reported by the local media, R.G. Kar Medical College challenged the verdict before the National Consumer Forum (NCDRC) on the ground that natural justice was denied as the judgment was passed ex perte. NCDRC passed a final order last month remanding the case back to the State Commission to give a final opportunity to the accused doctors/hospital to file their defense. However, NCDRC also held that the accused chose not to appear before the State Commission despite receiving repeated notices and imposed a penalty of Rs. 2 lakh for their non-appearance including Rs. 1 lakh against R.G. Kar Hospital and Rs. 25,000/- against each of the 4 accused doctors. PBT president Dr. Kunal Saha personally appeared on behalf of the complainant-mother Mrs. Bula Pal and argued that even if the case is remanded back to the state commission, the deliberate and devious ploy on part of a government medical college/hospital and the accused doctors for their non-appearance only to harass the victim must be dealt with exemplary punishment. The Rs. 2 lakh penalty against the accused doctors/hospital for non-appearance in a medical negligence case is one of the highest award of this nature in Indian medico-legal parlance (see news below).
PBT celebrated “Patients’ Day” (Rogi Divas) on Tuesday (May 28) with an open public forum in Kolkata where victims of medical negligence came from distant places to tell their personal unfortunate stories of death and injuries from negligent treatment by doctors and their long struggle to find justice due to the inherent flaws with long delays in the consumer courts and mostly corrupt medical councils that only try to shield their errant medical colleagues without caring for the lives of the vulnerable patients. “Rogi Divas” is celebrated every year on May 28, the day Anuradha Saha died during a social visit to India due to gross medical negligence by several senior Kolkata doctors including Dr. Sukumar Mukherjee who is still siting in top government position and AMRI hospital in Kolkata. “Rogi Divas” is to bring hope for all patients and victims of medical negligence and to spread public awareness about patients’ rights established under law including the right to obtain medical record with 72 hours and right to know about hospital cost before initiation of any treatment. PBT president, Dr. Kunal Saha, came to Kolkata from his permanent residence in USA and gave the key note lecture on this occasion. Dr. Saha is expected to argue before the consumer courts on behalf of several victims and to participate in several public interest litigations (PILs) before the High Courts and Supreme Court (read the news below).