For hire: protesters to cut hospital bill
Calcutta: A government lawyer has told Calcutta High Court that the city police have definite information on a group that attacks hospitals in exchange for money from patient parties who refuse to pay the bill.
The lawyer was referring to a politician linked to the Congress and listed a specific instance of a hospital being forced to "settle" a bill of Rs 5.10 lakh for Rs 80,000. But the account echoes what some police officers and hospital officials have been saying in private for the past few months.
The court was hearing a petition filed by the son of Rakesh Singh, once associated with trade union affairs in the Calcutta zoo, alleging that the family was being harassed by the police in the name of probing hospital attacks.
However, after hearing out Subhobrata Dutta, the lawyer representing the state government, Justice Debangshu Basak turned down the appeal and directed the police to carry out the investigation.
Advocate Dutta told the court: "The police have definite information that the father of the petitioner, Rakesh Singh, attacks hospitals and nursing homes on behalf of the patient parties who fail to pay the hospital bill. Singh and his associates force the hospital authorities to settle the bill paying a small portion of it. The police have also information that patient parties have to pay 25 per cent of the reduced amount to Singh and his men for taking their service."
The lawyer said the investigators had information that in August 2017, a patient was taken away without the bill being paid. Singh created trouble on the pretext of holding a "peaceful demonstration" and forced the hospital in Ekbalpore to "settle" the bill, Dutta added.
Later in the day, the CEO of a private hospital told this newspaper: "We see the same faces leading the demonstrations and carrying out the negotiations every time."
An official of another private hospital said that usually a group of three to four people, with political patronage, run such operations, taking advantage of tea stalls in front of hospitals where often relatives of patients discuss how the bill was going up.
"They overhear the conversations and approach the relatives with a promise to get significant discounts against a donation," said the official. "They have informers in the hospital too. Then they create trouble and force us to give discounts," he said.
In the court, the state counsel said that in the incident last year, Singh and his associates allegedly staged demonstrations for two days in front of the hospital. On the third day, they led a mob to ransack the hospital and assaulted some doctors and employees.
"After leading the violence...., the petitioner's father and his associates had gone to SSKM and forcefully obtained certificates from doctors to establish a false claim that they had been beaten up by the (Ekbalpore hospital) authorities. The SSKM doctors on the next day had approached the police.... They also lodged a complaint against Singh and his men," Dutta said.