A Kolhapur-based organisation helps the disabled become self-supporting
Helpers of the Handicapped, Kolhapur (HoHK) was started in 1984 by two dynamic ladies, Naseema Hurzuk, a paraplegic since she was 16 years old, and Rajani Deshpande, who uses crutches to move around due to polio, along with Manohar Deshbhratar. As its name indicates, the organisation is dedicated to rehabilitating persons with disabilities. It has so far helped nearly 20,000 people with medical aid (including corrective surgery), aids and appliances (wheelchairs, callipers and crutches), hostel accommodation, school and college education, vocational training and, finally, employment.
The organisation operates three main projects. Two of these are hostels, called Gharonda and Swapna Nagari (in Kolhapur and Sindhudurg), respectively. But it’s not just boarding that is provided. The objective of the organisation is to equip residents to lead a full life. To this end, they are taught cooking, use of computers, tailoring and embroidery, aside from skills that will help them get employment. Ayaz Sangrar, a trustee of the organisation, says, “At Gharonda, 65 school and college students and 15 vocational trainees reside. A few of the residents train at our workshop where we manufacture aids, such as callipers, and appliances, such as commodes, tricycles and furniture. Swapna Nagari hosts 90 vocational trainees and staff; most of them work at the cashew-processing unit. All these hostels’ inmates are physically challenged.”
The third project is Samarth Vidya Mandir, a school in Kolhapur that runs on donations. Mr Sangrar says, “It is an integrated co-ed school in Kolhapur. Currently, there are 525 students from KG to class X. We have a library, reading room and an audio-visual room where we screen educational films. Able-bodied boys and girls from economically backward rural areas also study here, paying nominal fees. The physically-challenged children study and live here free of charge.”
Teaching wasn’t on HoHK’s agenda initially. Its aim was only to provide basic medical aid and appliances to physically-challenged children. But, now, the organisation takes this task very seriously. Mr Sangrar says that HoHK’s teachers go out of their way to improve the lives of those living around them. He says, “For example, there is a colony of tribal people nearby. Our teachers go to the colony and teach them Marathi. We encourage them to send their children to our school.”
These three projects, Mr Sangrar says, are now running without any significant challenges, which is why HoHK is ready to take on new projects. “We plan to establish an employment exchange for the disabled. They would have to register and we would find employment for them. We are also planning to scale up advocacy and take up the cause of employment of the disabled according to the guidelines of the Disability Act 1995.”
There are numerous ways in which individuals can support HoHK. Donations are tax-deductible under Section 80-G of the Income Tax Act. Mr Sangrar says, “A child’s education costs Rs35,000 a year. This covers everything, from accommodation to medical aid. You could donate to our corpus reserve fund and cashew unit revolving fund. You could also help in database or website management or sponsor a single meal at one of our hostels, which at the Gharonda hostel costs Rs4,000 (Rs5,000 with one sweet dish) and at Swapna Nagari costs Rs3,500. Around 150 physically-challenged children live at these hostels.”
Helpers of the Handicapped, Kolhapur
223/6 E, Atmaram Apartments
Tarabai Park, Kolhapur 416 003
Maharashtra Tel: (91-231) 2680026 / 652 1294 www.hohk.org.in
If state government is not able to compensate for some free power given to one section, they ask the discoms to hike the tariff for another segment to compensate for the subsidy burden, says the minister
Union power minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has lambasted at state government who are doling out free or cheaper electricity and asked them to bear the cost of such subsidies instead of burdening power distribution companies (discoms).
“I have no problem if a State Government wants to give subsidy, or even free power," Schindia said, adding that "free power must be given not on the balance sheet of the discom but on the balance sheet of the state government”.
While Scindia did not specifically name any state, the Governments have announced plans for or are already providing electricity free of cost or at lower rates to certain sections of the society, such as farmers.
“The states say they will give free power, but the losses suffered by the discoms are not bridged from the State government’s coffers and in the end it is the discom that suffers. This is the problem.”
The Minister’s comments come at a time when financial position of most of the discoms is in bad shape and the Centre’s Rs1.9 lakh crore debt restructuring package for these entities is facing roadblocks due to certain reservations expressed by some states.
The drug maker denies wrongdoing, but the Justice Department and a whistleblower say Novartis used cash and meals to get doctors to prescribe its drugs
On Jan. 23, 2008, the pharmaceutical company Novartis threw a party at a restaurant on Long Island. The party, which cost $1,250, was ostensibly for doctors to learn about cardiovascular drugs made by the company, with Novartis sales representatives present as well.
But no doctors ever came, according to a whistleblower lawsuit against Novartis that was unsealed last week. Instead, nine sales reps ran up the tab, and the company wrote an honorarium check to Dr. Robert Nissan, a Long Island family practitioner who wasn’t present, the lawsuit alleges.
The party, the lawsuit maintains, was one of “countless” events held by Novartis over a decade that were designed to direct kickbacks — cash, meals and favors to relatives — to doctors who prescribed the company’s drugs.
Last week, the Department of Justice joined the whistleblower lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2011 by Oswald Bilotta, a former Novartis sales representative on Long Island. “Novartis corrupted the prescription drug dispensing process with multi-million dollar ‘incentive programs’ that targeted doctors who, in exchange for illegal kickbacks, steered patients toward its drugs,” Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.
Novartis has disputed the government’s allegations of wrongdoing; Nissan did not return several requests for comment.
Whether such payments by drug companies to physicians are kickbacks or a legitimate marketing and educational practice is a recurring controversy — as ProPublica has extensively reported. Our Dollars for Docs database  tracks $2 billion in payments to doctors from 15 drug companies, including Novartis. All but one have settled government lawsuits  alleging improper marketing practices.
A number of the doctors named in the Novartis case have received substantial sums since 2009, Dollars for Docs shows, including one physician who was paid more than $150,000 combined from six different drug companies.
Historically, the doctors cited in cases alleging improper marketing have not faced consequences. A ProPublica investigation in 2011 found that none of more than 75 doctors named in lawsuits since 2008 had been sanctioned, despite charges of fraud or conduct that put patients at risk.
Generally, payments like those in Dollars for Docs made for speaking, consulting, travel, meals and other promotional purposes are legal.
Novartis has only publicly reported payments since 2010, when the company pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid $422.5 million to settle charges it had illegally promoted Trileptal, an anti-seizure drug, and had paid kickbacks for prescribing its drugs. Aside from the misdemeanor plea, Novartis denied wrongdoing.
The latest lawsuit is one of two filed last week by the Justice Department against Novartis in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The company is also accused of paying kickbacks to pharmacies to promote Myfortic, a drug that suppresses the immune system. Novartis — which is bound by a corporate integrity agreement from its 2010 settlement — has disputed the allegations in both cases.
“We disagree with the way the government is characterizing our conduct in both of these matters and we stand behind our Compliance program,” Andre Wyss, the head of Novartis’s U.S. operations, said in a statement.
The whistleblower lawsuit alleges that Lotrel, a blood-pressure medication with sales of nearly $1.3 billion in 2006, “became a big seller for NOVARTIS because it paid physicians to write Lotrel prescriptions.” Novartis sales reps allegedly rewarded doctors with cash or gift checks and recruited them to attend “Clinical Learning Days” with honoraria of $250 to $500 a pop.
The meetings could be as short as half an hour, the whistleblower suit alleges, and doctors would be paid even if they didn’t show up. “So long as a physician was writing Lotrel prescriptions,” it says, “he or she could expect to be paid.”
Thousands of doctors took part in the alleged kickback scheme, according to the whistleblower lawsuit. But the case singles out 24 Long Island doctors and nurses, including Nissan. Nissan and two other physicians — Edward Condon, who specializes in internal medicine, and Mark Jagust, a family practitioner — “each received tens of thousands of dollars” from Novartis, according to the lawsuit.
Novartis also hired Ross Fishberger — the son of Kenneth Fishberger, another one of the doctors named — as a sales representative “in order to assure that Dr. Fishberger continued to prescribe” Lotrel and other Novartis drugs, according to the lawsuit. Novartis also allegedly employed Condon’s wife and daughter-in-law as sales reps.
Reached by ProPublica, Condon said he had no knowledge of the lawsuit, and hung up when asked more detailed questions. Jagust and the elder Fishberger did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Ross Fishberger declined to comment when reached by ProPublica.
Condon received at least $156,094 in meals, travel, speaking fees and other expenses from six companies, including Novartis. Another doctor, Michael Shanik of Smithtown, N.Y., was paid at least $97,754 from six companies, including more than $30,000 from Novartis.
Robert Mormando, an internal medicine specialist in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., who was also named in the case, told ProPublica he hadn’t taken any kickbacks and didn’t know of Long Island doctors who had.
“I would say it’s up for interpretation whether paying someone to be part of a speaking program” constitutes a kickback, he said. “I’m not aware of any doctors who have taken it to that level.”
Mormando said he had been a paid speaker for Novartis on three occasions a number of years ago and estimated he had earned between $1,200 and $1,500. According to Dollars for Docs, he was paid at least $9,958 from nine pharmaceutical companies since 2009, only $19 of which came from Novartis.
Another of the named doctors, Howard Hertz of Babylon, N.Y., also denied taking kickbacks in a brief interview. Hertz was paid at least $9,888 since 2010 from five drug companies, including $4,110 from Novartis, according to Dollars for Docs.
The main plank of the Justice Department’s lawsuit is the federal anti-kickback statute, which makes it illegal for drug companies to pay doctors with the intent of getting them to prescribe a particular drug or to reward them for doing so.
Kevin Outterson, a professor at Boston University Law School who has studied health care fraud, said it can difficult to prove intent in pursuing kickback cases.
“What it boils down to is they need smoking gun evidence,” he said.
But Outterson said he thought the Justice Department had a strong case. “It goes directly to the culture of wining and dining and having lavish entertainment and educational events in order to induce prescription writing,” he said.