The rule: no doctor who is also a teacher in a state-run medical college is allowed to solicit donations for himself, for an organisation or for a cause, without prior permission of the government.
The rule has been consistently followed in its breach by a host of doctors. Most have escaped the spotlight, as it is a common practice for pharmaceutical firms to oblige senior and influential doctors in the hope that they will, in turn, promote their products.
But now, leading cardiologist Monotosh Panja finds himself in the rule-breach glare.
A professor with the Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research and head of the department of cardiology in SSKM Hospital, Panja has been asking pharmaceutical companies for donations as sponsorship fees for a book, Tropical Heart Disease in India, which he is editing and writing.
One multinational pharmaceutical company, Johnson and Johnson, has decided to say 'no' to the doctor.
Panja, a former president of the Cardiological Society of India, has asked the pharma company to 'pay Rs 2 lac' as co-sponsors for the book.
The letter, sent on November 22 on Panja's own letterhead, reads: 'I would request you please send your cheque in the name of ICP monogram immediately' .
Panja was informed by senior company representatives in Calcutta that they would not cough up the sum. A senior officer of the multinational pharma firm told Metro from Mumbai: 'This is one issue which is plaguing the pharma industry and it is time we all put an end to it.'
Panja said he had been asked by the Association of Physicians of India, which he had represented as president for a year (2003-04), to raise funds for publishing a big book on diseases. 'The money is not to be used for personal gain and a massive book is being sponsored and published by the association. My book on tropical heart diseases is just a small chapter in it, which I am also editing now. This has nothing to do with my hospital work either,' he said.
The letter Panja sent to the pharmaceutical company bears no mention of the association or its project. 'I, as secretary of the Bengal chapter, have not heard anything about the book nor about the association asking for donations from pharma companies,' stated Dr Surinder Daga.
When asked about the Panja matter, director of medical education C.R. Maiti said: 'He has not taken any permission from me in this regard, nor am I aware of any such permission being sought by Panja or being granted by the government.'
R.D. Dubey, joint secretary (headquarters) of the Indian Medical Association, added: 'The Medical Council of India rules clearly say that doctors should not ask for any monetary favours from any pharma company whose products he or she might be prescribing.'