Does being a minister protect one from putting in a personal appearance in court' A consumer court in the city, asked to decide on fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee’s allegations against a private hospital, was split in two over this question, leading to an unprecedented verdict, in which one component of a two-member bench declined to have anything to do with the order.
Chatterjee, who set a precedent of sorts, as a minister, by taking the redress-route, lost the high-profile case, with the court dismissing a plea for a compensation of Rs 1 lakh.
But the controversy over his non-appearance — admittedly because the South 24-Parganas District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum could not make up its mind — loomed large over Thursday’s order.
Dissenting member B.C. Gomes, apparently displeased at forum president P.C. Kundu’s refusal to summon Chatterjee to court to know more about his “diet and lifestyle” on the eve of his blood-sugar test, said he was not “allowing or dismissing” the case.
Chatterjee had been to Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals on July 17 to have the level of sugar in his blood tested. The report pegged the fasting blood glucose count at 315. The minister went to another diagnostic centre the next day, where the reading was 241.
Chatterjee then had his blood tested at Medical College and Hospital, where the estimate read 180.
Chatterjee went to town with the three different reports and a consumer-support organisation (the Federation of Consumer Associations, West Bengal) took up his case, bringing it to the notice of the South 24-Parganas District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum and demanding compensation.
Medical opinion placed in court by the Apollo Gleneagles legal team, comprising Prabir Basu and Anjan Datta, said the level of sugar in a person’s blood could “fluctuate wildly” because of a person’s “lifestyle” prior to the test. Gomes, therefore, felt that the court should call the state fire services minister to ascertain this.
In the order passed on Thursday, he said advocates representing both sides (Chatterjee’s brief was presented by Shantanu Mukherjee) agreed that the minister should be asked to come and testify before the court.
But Kundu, “for reasons best known to him”, refused to do this, Gomes remarked, making his displeasure evident. “Hence, I do not allow this case nor do I dismiss it. I do not give any order in this case,” Gomes’ part of the verdict stated. Forum president Kundu felt there were “various factors” that could lead to fluctuation of blood-sugar levels, but refused to elaborate.