The motto of Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) Yato Dharmastato Jaya i.e., ?where there is righteousness there shall be victory?, was busted in the Nerurkar baby kidnapping case in the Sion Hospital, Mumbai. There is neither righteousness nor victory in the abduction of the baby from the municipal hospital. As for the inconsolable mother who lost her new born it is a tragic defeat, a very annoyed Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar expressed his anguish by observing that a woman goes to a hospital hoping to deliver a baby instead ends up losing her child. Mohini Nerurkar, the mother is suffering from a raw emotional wound of having lost her baby, who is untraceable to this day. Sandhya Kamat the Dean of the Sion Hospital instead of helping the mother to find her baby is rubbing salt on her wound by blaming her for handing over her baby to an unknown woman before she went to the rest room. Why do the hospital administrators allow unknown women to wander in hospital wards in the first place? Annoyed at the BMC'sattempts to blame the mother for the baby'sabduction, Justice Nazki asked, ?the BMC claims the Dean was not responsible nor was the doctor in charge or the nurse. But then who was? Can we ask the woman to go to a temple and pray to God for the return of her baby?? Nerurkar'schild however is not the first child to be stolen from the Sion Hospital, which only points the dismal state in the municipal hospitals where there is neither safety nor security for patients. The annual budget of BMC is even more than that of some small states of India and it is responsible for providing and administrating basic infrastructure, facilities and services in public municipal hospitals, which remain dysfunctional most of the times. No wonder BMC according to an advertising and theatre personality Alyque Padamsee stands for ?Badly Managed Corporation?.
Last year two gruesome incidents of callously declaring a new born baby as still born and a woman receiving severe burns on her upper thighs and back while delivering a baby had tarnished the public image of the Lokmanya Tilak Hospital (Sion Hospital), which was hitherto considered better than the other civic hospitals in Mumbai. Health care in municipal hospitals is deplorable. The bizarre incidents mentioned here being a pointer.
About two years ago, I visited my maid servant who was operated for hysterectomy at the Rajawadi Municipal hospital in Ghatkopar. The conditions there were miserable. Stinking toilets, dirty floors, indifferent staff and a suffocating, overcrowded ward is what I saw. Little surprise then that in such unhygienic conditions my maid developed a post operation infection.
The doctors and staff members at the Sion Hospital claim that the reason for the theft of the Nerurkar baby is the overcrowding in the hospital. It is mandatory for posh, five star hospitals like the Leelavati and the Jaslok to reserve certain beds for the poor. But these beds are clandestinely allotted to those who can afford to pay the hospital costs and thus these hospitals are making money out of the free beds meant for the poor. The Charity Commission recently came down heavily on these elite hospitals for denying beds for the underprivileged. Since the posh hospitals are denying the poor their share of beds however small the percentage may be, the poor have little choice than to flock to the municipal hospitals, where if they don'tget beds, they simply put a blanket on the floor and lie on it.
The division bench of Justice Bilal Nazki and Justice Anoop Mohta observed that, ?A large number of persons come to the municipal hospitals because they cannot afford treatment at expensive, private hospitals, therefore civic hospitals have a greater degree of responsibility. If the hospital fails to tackle such problems, the common man will be rendered helpless?? said the bench. As proof of the two judge division bench'sobservation, Times of India reported the story of a pregnant woman who sells hair clips in trains was refused admission in the local maternity home because of her shoddy appearance. The woman finally gave birth to a baby girl at the Bhayander station. Maybe it would take a Danny Boyle to make a film to show how the poor are denied medical care and how they are treated ? worse than cattle in these Bombay Municipal Hospitals, for the municipal authorities to wake up from their lethargy. There is very little staff accountability in municipal hospitals. This is because it'salmost impossible to sack a municipal employee, even if he is a class four worker. The municipal union is very strong and there is little chance of a worker being dismissed however serious his aberration may be. Most of the municipal workers have political affiliations which protects them. The underprivileged patients who come to municipal hospitals lack the money and judicial access to sue the hospital staff for their crime even if it results in the loss of life. The hospital staff is complacent in this knowledge and exploits the poor of their economic vulnerability and their lack of judicial access. On February 4, the Mumbai Mirror carried the story of a 23 year old lawyer serving a legal notice to the orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Jhunjhunwala of the Bombay Hospital seeking Rs 2 crore in damages for wrongly operating on her left foot instead of the right, from which he was supposed to remove an implant. Would it be possible for a patient of a municipal hospital to do this?
At the backdrop of this realistically bleak scenario in municipal hospitals the Government'sannouncement that it plans to hike the social sector spending on public health care in the interim budget brings little cheer to the people who by now know that planning and allocation of funds for public welfare schemes rarely get implemented at the ground level due to lack of political will. Since ministers, high profile bureaucrats and politicians do not get admitted in municipal hospitals, so why would they bother about how these public hospitals function. Prakash Vaikunth Phaterpekar is the Shiv Sena Corporator of Ward No. 146 and a member of the Shiv Sena Health Committee (Aarogya Samiti), when I contacted him on the phone to know his reaction to the Nerurkar baby abduction, he said that he was busy in a meeting. The standard reply was not wholly unexpected. The year 2009 has been termed as the year of change. We need more citizens group like the Lok Satta which has been working for political and administrative reforms, to overhaul the entire infrastructure and functioning of the municipal hospitals to make it safe and to provide quality service for the underprivileged in society. We the people pay taxes; we have a right to protest when the money which is being collected from us fails to benefit those for whose welfare it is ostensibly collected. Why is it that Renuka Chaudhary who is Union Minister of Women and Child Development blew the whole Mangalore incident out of proportion for vested interest is turning a blind eye to this tragedy? Is it because her party is in power here in Maharashtra?