The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Scent of scam in medical scheme

New Delhi, May 7: The Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre and six others, including health minister Sushma Swaraj and her predecessors, Shatrughan Sinha and C.P. Thakur, on a “medical scam” in the Central Government Health Services (CGHS) scheme highlighted in a retired Calcutta High Court judge’s petition.

A division bench of Chief Justice V.N. Khare and Justice S.B. Sinha also issued notices to the CGHS director, the Hospital Services Consultancy Corporation of India and the CBI on Justice R.N. Ray’s petition, which sought a probe by the Central agency into the scam.

Decrying the scheme’s “pathetic” condition in Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and other places, Ray cited newspaper reports on how, on a single occasion alone, “spurious drugs” worth Rs 2 crore were seized during an intelligence operation.

The scheme is used by lakhs of retired judges, government employees and professionals of several other categories, like accredited journalists, members of the allied services and of quasi-judicial bodies, to whom the benefit has been extended.

The petition said acute shortage of drugs, spurious medicines and financial corruption have paralysed the CGHS system, infringing on the users’ fundamental right to live.

“The number of CGHS beneficiaries in the city of Delhi alone is about seven lakhs, while that of Mumbai and Calcutta are about four and two lakhs respectively,” the petition said.

Ray, a CGHS card-holder, contended that “the state of affairs as prevailing (in the CGHS) can be sorted out only through the effective directions” of the Supreme Court as “there is no other forum for the efficacious redress of the grievances”.

The petition also quoted a letter by MP Basudeb Acharya to the CBI, “pointing out the gross maladministration, which has become the way of life for the health ministry”.

In Calcutta, Ray said he “is experiencing an acute shortage of drugs in local CGHS dispensaries” and “word is abuzz in government circles that the drugs are being procured from the local chemists only and most of them are untested”.

The CGHS, besides treating lakhs of government employees, retired judges and others, also supplies medicines to the BSF, the CRPF and other security personnel.

The drugs reportedly do not even carry the “logo of CGHS” on them, the petition added.

Spurious drugs have been found mainly among antibiotics and pain-killers, the petition said, adding that the state of affairs in government medical store depots in Chennai, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Karnal, Guwahati, Mumbai and New Delhi is pathetic.

Pointing to former health minister Shatrughan Sinha’s statement in the Lok Sabha that the Centre was procuring medicines at rates at least 25 to 50 per cent cheaper and saving on sales tax, the petition said the statement was not based on ground realities and, hence, “misleading”.

Attacking the government’s drug-procuring policy, Ray said “if the procurement of drugs is allowed to continue in this manner, the life and health of millions of citizens of India would be at stake and the government of India would be suffering colossal losses of several crores of rupees”.

He added that in the annual procurement of drugs estimated at Rs 100 crore, the government could save 50 per cent on the rates and yet ensure standards drugs are supplied.

The petition also sought a CBI probe into “untested/spurious drugs infiltrating the market and causing grave loss to the public exchequer”.

The case will come up for further hearings after the court’s summer vacation in the first or second week of July.

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