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Mamata Banerjee’s “Swasthya Sathi” Scheme Discriminatory and Unconstitutional: PBT Sends Legal Notice Seeking Changes

In the recent pre-election months, Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal Government has been touting the “Swasthya Sathi” medical scheme with boisterous claims that all residents of West Bengal will be covered under free health insurance program paid by the state government that will pay up to Rs. 5 lakh each year to cover hospital charges. Of course, it sounds very attractive to the citizens living in the state – who wouldn’t like to have a free health insurance that pays up to Rs. 5 lakh for medical cost every year? But we looked deeper into it and asked some questions about “Swasthya Sathi” to the Bengal health department. In a letter dated 22nd January, 2021, Director of Health Services (DHS) responded categorically stating that although “Swasthya Sathi” would cover all residents (except those who already have government-sponsored insurance) of West Bengal irrespective of their economic or social status, but it would up to Rs. 5 lakh each year “per family” (see DHS letter below).

It means that financial protection from “Swasthya Sathi” would depend on the size of your family and it has also defined “family” as not only husband, wife and children but also father/mother of each spouses. Thus, the “Swasthya Sathi” scheme would pay up to Rs. 5 lakh per year to cover the medical cost for one man if he is a single-member family, e.g. widow or unmarried. But if you belong to a large family of 10 people (including parents, six children and two grandparents), individual member in that family may receive only up to Rs.50,000/- for medical expenses.

Article 14 of Indian Constitution has clearly stated that every person in India must be treated equally. A plain reading of the “Swasthya Sathi” plan shows that it clearly violates the principle of Article 14 of Indian Constitution as it discriminates on the basis of your family size. The scheme is also extreme in another aspect as it says that everybody in West Bengal will receive this no cost government insurance irrespective of their own financial status. Why should a wealthy and rich person be paid by the tax-payers for their medical expenses? PBT has sent a “legal notice” to the Bengal health department today demanding justice for bringing immediate change in the “Swasthya Sathi” program in that every resident, not each family, should receive the same level of protection, i.e. up to Rs. 5 lakh per year for medical expenses. Unless Banerjee-government makes these changes as we have demanded, PBT will bring a public interest litigation (PIL) for the ends of justice.

Health Dept. response (Jan, 2021) Swasthya Sathi

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