Doctors to administer hospitals. That is what the new bill in West Bengal is about. So far the state health service had two cadres, the medical education service for teaching doctors and the West Bengal health service for medical officers. The West Bengal state health service (second amendment) bill, 2003 proposes to create a third cadre, a public-health-cum-administrative service, under which doctors will look after administrative affairs in hospitals. To pose this as a brilliant answer to the opposition’s infuriated criticism of the condition of government hospitals suggests a loss of contact with reality that is staggering in magnitude. That would be the most favourable interpretation. A less sympathetic one would underline the obvious failure of the state government to tackle corruption and unruliness in the running of hospitals, and its desperate bid to produce an instant cure-all to soothe exasperated souls. The West Bengal government is forever entranced by red tape, it still cannot distinguish between new spools of red tape and revolution. The state health minister, Mr Surjya Kanta Mishra, has talked about financial compensation for the non-practising nature of the new cadre. There is no word about the method by which present incumbents are to be removed from their administrative posts once the cadre has been created, or about the extra work such a sudden overhaul of the system would entail.
But the basic question is, why' What use would a new batch of people in administrative posts be, if the real problem is corruption' Would there be a test to spot the miracle-workers' It would surely be much simpler, if less spectacular, to attack the problem at the root. If a whole new cadre can be created, with the necessary infrastructure for examinations and training, it would seem logical to see whether or not a systematic accounting of material, equipment and manpower in each state hospital has a salutary effect. Such an investigation would at least reveal the lines of corruption and throw up the kingpins. Finding the offenders, and punishing them, could actually change the system. That is the old-fashioned way. Mr Mishra prefers new toys, they distract the attention more effectively.