The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal cries off neglect cases

New Delhi, July 20: The highest court in the country will consider tomorrow an affidavit by the Bengal government, which washed its hands of the responsibility of punishing negligent doctors.

The Left Front government contended in the Supreme Court that it had “neither supervisory nor advisory role to play in the matter”.

A division bench led by Justice M.B. Shah will tomorrow resume hearing replies from health secretaries of all states and Union territories on a public interest litigation seeking action by the Medical Council of India and state councils against errant doctors.

The petition was filed by Malay Ganguly, brother-in-law of Kunal Saha, a US-based doctor whose wife Anuradha, also a doctor, had died in Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital in 1998 after alleged negligence by doctors treating her at a hospital in Calcutta. Anuradha was admitted first to the hospital in Calcutta with a disease that was said to be rare.

Though the trial court in Alipore had convicted two doctors, Saha’s appeal to Calcutta High Court for the removal of Dr Ashok Chowdhury as president of the West Bengal Medical Council was rejected in April. The high court had also upheld the state council’s decision to acquit three doctors involved in Anuradha’s treatment.

Ganguly’s petition in the apex court, related to the Saha case, had sought a directive to the national and state medical councils to ensure stringent action against negligent doctors across the country.

On the apex court seeking details of the number of complaints filed with state councils and the action taken, Bengal filed its affidavit.

It said: “West Bengal Medical Council was constituted under the Bengal Medical Act, 1914 and it has been functioning in the state with full autonomy in the matter of discharging its duties within disciplinary jurisdiction and the state government has neither supervisory nor advisory role to play in the matter.”

The affidavit, however, added that the “state government is committed to ensure proper medical treatment and medical care to the people of the state and wants that any aberration on the part of any medical practitioner, which endangers and imperils public health, is properly dealt with”.

Other than Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Nagaland, Kerala and the national capital territory of Delhi, no other state or Union territory has filed affidavits yet.

According to Ganguly’s counsel, Avik Datta, no “medical council” had so far filed a complete list of complaints received over the past 20 years. Several states, he said, were yet to establish a medical council.

According to the petition, the Medical Council of India contended it could not do anything about states’ failure to set up medical councils.

The council added that it could not take action against doctors who were not registered with it, but might be attached to a state council.

But several state councils contended that they could not take action against doctors not registered with them, who might actually be directly registered with the national council.

Complaints against a doctor registered with a state council but practising in another state are reportedly not entertained by medical councils.

Ganguly also claimed that no council followed the national medical council’s rule of disposing of complaints against doctors within six months at the most. A perjury petition against the registrar of the Bengal council is also pending.

In its affidavit, the Kerala council listed 32 registered complaints between 1960 and 2003. Of these, 14 were received this year and 10 in 2002. The only time the state council cancelled a doctor’s licence was over the use of a “bogus” certificate. The complaint was filed by the state health secretary.

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