Citizens' Issues
President Patil climbs down, settles for a modest 2,500 sq ft home in Pune

Situated about five kilometres from the controversial post-retirement home which she abandoned, this new bungalow is the official residence of a senior officer from the Police Wireless Department

From building a palatial post-retirement home on 2,42,000 sq ft of prime defence land in Khadki, Pune, to settling for a modest 2,500 sq ft (for which she is eligible) existing government bungalow, the climb down has been historic with Moneylife playing a vital role in compelling her to abide by the law.

Situated about five kilometres from the controversial post-retirement home which she abandoned, this new bungalow is the official residence of a senior officer of the Police Wireless Department. While there are whispers of the wireless department sulking for not having been consulted about this takeover, Moneylife did not get any confirmation about this grouse.

Located in the tranquil area of Pashan Road, in the vicinity of the Rural Pune Police Headquarters and the University of Pune, it is a relatively quiet area. Her daughter, Jyoti Rathore, who is a resident of Pune did a reconnaissance of the bungalow and gave her approval. Now, the formalities of the state government handing it over to the central government which would be taking it on rent for President Patil, should commence soon.

As a sequel to a stinging investigative series of articles in Moneylife between 11th April (when we broke the first story) and 25th April, President Patil returned the land on 27th April. Ever since, the hunt was on for an alternative home, with Pune being her first choice, though there were news reports that she had decided to retire in Delhi.

Last week, officers of the urban development ministry surveyed a few houses identified by the state government and finally put their stamp on ‘Raigad’ as the bungalow is named. It will undergo refurbishment before President Patil settles down here.

It may be recalled that Moneylife first broke the story on the excess land grabbed by Patil to build her post retirement home. War veterans Col Suresh Patil (retd) and Commander Ravindra Patil (retd) had been campaigning against this issue since January 2012. Moneylife highlighted information procured under the RTI (Right to Information) by Col Patil which stated that under the home ministry rules, any president of India, post retirement is eligible only for a 2,000 sq ft house, rented out by the government. Or he or she can occupy a maximum 4,498 sq ft house, in case, in the city or town of the president’s choice, the senior-most government official resides in a bungalow of the same area (4,498 sq ft).

Besides, Moneylife accessed some other documents that were procured under RTI, which had incriminating evidence against President Patil violating the norms of a post-retirement home for a president. These included a letter from the President of India’s office to the Defence Estate Office (DEO) Pune, questioning the ‘precedence’ of allocating such a vast land for personal purposes. The DEO had kept mum in this regard.  The site inspection report by the DEO Pune gave away the truth that the two bungalows in good condition and an open land in between them—all amounting to 5.60 acres were given away. One of the bungalows was demolished to pave way for massive construction. This, despite the fact that in another communication, the Office of the President of India had written to the DEO, Pune that it is not advisable to build a new structure on the land and that only they should be refurbished. Most importantly, both the bungalows rested on A-1 Defence Land, meaning they can be used strictly only for official army purpose.

Unable to bear the bad publicity that came her way, President Patil was forced to surrender the land, though the official press release from the President’s office stated that she was hurt by the kind of publicity she received. The war veterans argued that Pune, being an important Army Station, officers and jawans find it difficult to get residential accommodation when they are posted here. Against this backdrop the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forced taking away prime defence land was unacceptable to them.

In fact, the retreat by the President Patil proved for the first time in the history of Indian journalism that a small-time online media group, along with social media, charged up an entire nation. Not only did the first story become a “Tweeting trend” of the day (12th April) but the series compelled President Patil to give it all up.

(Vinita Deshmukh is the editor of Life 365 ( She is also the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])




4 years ago

The credit for this must go to you and your team. Thanks for this service to the people of India.

P M Ravindran

4 years ago

Thanks to Moneylife and the veteran soldiers for driving some sense into this criminal woman who polluted Rashtrapathi Bhavan for 5 long years!

Public Interest Exclusive
Medical malpractice: What is the way forward? — Part II

The “blame-game” and demands for action against doctors will not help and needs to be stopped. It is better to think of the changes in the system to reduce medical malpractice


Yesterday we carried the first part of the series titled “Healthcare system controlled by pharma companies at the cost of patients”. Today we have the second part which deals about the ways to curb medical malpractice and ensure healthcare to all.

Once we know what is wrong with the present system, it should not be difficult to plan out a strategy to improve the system. But first, it is absolutely essential to stop the blame-game. Threats of punitive action against the doctors only vitiate the atmosphere, puts them on the defensive and will only worsen the situation and escalate costs. Immensely better results will be obtained by changing the system, so that the ‘Good’ is encouraged, and the ‘Bad’ is curbed. Only then can the small percentage of persistent defaulters be punished.

The main fault in the present system is obvious—private healthcare has an uncontrolled monopoly because the public healthcare system is grossly inadequate. State governments are most reluctant to increase their responsibilities and restrict themselves to “free treatment” for the poor. But nothing is free—so the tax payers pay. Thus, there is no correlation between the contributions towards healthcare services, by a patient or the community, and the expenses incurred thereon. This makes the whole system irresponsible and hence unresponsive. The worst culprit is the government bureaucracy who pays nothing and yet gets (really) free treatment—even in private hospitals. From the peon to the minister, they do not contribute a single paisa for their healthcare. And they form a formidable 12% to 15% of those who can afford to pay. Therefore, the concept of ‘free’ treatment must be opposed, and at the same time, public healthcare services must be widely expanded and made at least partially competitive to the private sector.

 A report of the High Level Expert Committee on Universal Health Coverage for India (commissioned by the Planning Commission), released on 26 November 2011, recommends that government spending on health must increase from 1.2% to 2.5% by 2017, and to 3% by 2022. The committee also advises that at least 70% of the budget must be for primary health. If this is done, there will be a substantial increase in primary healthcare centres and substantial improvement in district/taluka hospitals which offer secondary care.

I do hope that not more than 10% out of this budget is used for expanding tertiary healthcare. High-tech modern equipment and the highly-trained staff eat away the bulk of the tax payers’ money. More than 40% of the health budget of the Mumbai municipal corporation is used up by tertiary healthcare, while there are almost no patients in the 170 primary healthcare centres in the city for want of good doctors and simple diagnostic facilities. The health indices of Asian countries conclusively prove that primary and secondary healthcare improves overall health and increases the life-span of a community substantially, whereas the tertiary care has almost no impact on the society as a whole. The reason is simple—only a few need tertiary care. If it is presumed that one in 500 need tertiary care and it is accepted that such a person gets 10 additional years to live, the community, as a whole, benefits  by just seven days—ceterus parebusindividuals benefit but not the society. The inference is simple—tertiary services must be developed and run with a separate budget, even in the public sector, and it must be supported by specific separate tax on the affordable classes. The budget on healthcare must be spared of these frivolous expenses.

Organisation of health services is equally important. The government is justified in offering healthcare in public hospitals at nominal charges, or free to the poor. But many opportunists take advantage of this while the poor are sidelined and remain neglected. Can we identify the poor, not-so-poor, and those who can afford to pay amongst those who attend public hospitals? If so, the poor can be treated free, the not-so-poor at partially subsidised rates (about 25% of cost) and those who can afford must pay full cost. This will allow public hospitals to earn some legitimate revenue to be used for maintenance, repairs and expansion (some autonomy must also be given to the hospital-in-charge.)

Most countries require patients to attend a primary doctor first, and are referred to a secondary hospital only if required. If we follow the same system, only those among the poor, who have attended the primary doctor first and are referred for further treatment, can be considered for treatment at nominal charges. They will also have separate timings at a public hospital. Those who approach secondary centres directly or are referred through the private sector will be considered not-so-poor. They will have separate timings and be charged at least 25% of the cost of treatment.

The IRDA (Insurance Regulatory & Development Authority) chairman describes them as “preferring to hop in an auto and go to the hospital, instead of going to the primary health centre”. The class who can afford to pay can also be induced to seek treatment at public hospitals, if pay clinics are allowed in the evening hours for senior specialists, and maybe 20% beds are separately reserved for them. This class will pay full costs and specialists will be entitled to collect “doctor’s charges” from them. This incentive will help the government to retain good specialists and also prevent these patients from taking advantage of “Free Treatment” in the morning hours. Public sector hospitals will become competitive and will help curb private sector hospitals’ exploitative tendencies to some extent. Public hospitals will display their charges and this will foster transparency in the entire sector. In this system, even tertiary treatment can be offered to the poor and the not-so-poor classes, if they are properly referred under strictly defined parameters.

Doctors need to be disciplined too. In order to curb the misuse of high-tech healthcare, it is absolutely essential that primary healthcare providers (both in public and private sector) are prohibited from ordering high-cost therapy and medicines like the latest antibiotics. A schedule of therapy and drugs can be easily prepared (say-schedule-sp). If these doctors feel that the patient really needs such advice, he must refer that patient to a specialist or a hospital. Similarly, there ought to be a rule for all new imported drugs introduced in the country. This single administrative step might control the abuse of modern technology by 50%. It will not harm any patient, as the doctor is obliged to refer the case to a specialist or a hospital. In fact, it may effectively reduce the “cut-practice” to an extent.

Fresh medical graduates will need to be re-oriented to become primary health providers, as most of them are not trained for it at all. They are taught to investigate, and treat patients with the most modern methods, and hence have neither the knowledge nor the expertise to treat the patients with simpler methods. They ought to be posted for a year or two in district hospitals, while simultaneously attending primary healthcare centres. Lessons in socio-economic realities of communities would help a lot. Competence automatically reduces malpractice. Even if these doctors decide to leave the public sector and become private general practitioners, it would be a blessing in disguise.

Insurance companies are not helping either. They cry about losses, but continue to increase premiums and support 5-star tertiary hospitals, at the cost of the average insurer. How does one explain why a bill of Rs35,000 is approved only after several objections, while a bill of Rs1lakh for the exact same treatment from a 5-star hospital is cleared without a question? A bill of Rs60,000 for hysterectomy from a nursing home was rejected; when the same patient had been given an estimate of Rs1,50,000 by a 5-star hospital which was pre-approved. Clearly, this attitude benefits tertiary hospitals and patients want to be treated at the “best” hospital even if their coverage is marginally above the estimated bill. An insurance company pays and later increases the annual premium of the policy—no extra medical benefit at all.

The central government is supposedly planning “universal health coverage”. The IRDA chairman estimates that a premium of only Rs400 per annum for this scheme would be required, but doubts whether such a low premium will suffice, as people are paying more than Rs15,000 for their mediclaim policies today. I am equally sceptical, unless the coverage restricts itself to cover primary and secondary health-care services. A defined standard of service would be provided under the scheme, and the medical centre will receive charges at a previously defined rates. For better facilities, individuals can top-up their own policy (by paying) for additional expenses. The advantage of the scheme is that people can utilise the services from recognised private health-care centres (if the government approves it). Thus, private and public health services will become competitive and bring down costs in the private sector to an extent.  The concept of “free treatment” would be replaced by collective payment, through insurance. It is stipulated that the salaried and higher income groups will pay a proportionate premium while the government will pay the premium for those below the poverty line. The scheme looks attractive. The dangerous dragons are bureaucrats who may swallow a major chunk of the budget. These 15 crore ‘affluent’ do not have the slightest inclination to pay for any services they get. Compulsory monthly deduction at source from them must be demanded by vigilant activists to save the scheme from failure.

But the biggest lacuna in government schemes is the neglect of professionals—the doctors. It is repeatedly stated that doctors are not willing to work in rural areas. This is absolutely false. Vacancies are due to the administrative difficulties in filling the posts and not due to lack of applicants. A large percentage of doctors are working on ‘temporary’ basis and are re-appointed every year after one day break in service. They are not entitled to leave, increment or perquisites; some have been working like this for more than 10 years. Their salaries are inadequate, but my own experience tells me that better salaries do not guarantee better performance. A fixed salary ensures minimal performance; therefore, all professionals must be given performance-based incentive payment. Fees must be defined for every service, collected and paid to the doctors, from primary healthcare centres to the tertiary hospitals. It will ensure that government doctors earn the same as his counterpart in private practice. Universal health coverage may fail like other government schemes if “performance-based payment” principle is ignored. I have been advocating this for a long time.

Another way to curb the abuse of technology is the use the internet effectively. A little research on treatment prescribed by a doctor would help most patients. This will create consumer awareness and allow patients to question doctors. After all “knowledge is power” and doctors too will become more cautious. I foresee a tremendous scope for retired professionals, consumer activists and qualified social workers to start a “Medical Information Centre” in front of every big hospital or polyclinic to help guide patients.

A summary of what needs to be done:
a)    The “blame-game” and demands for action against doctors will not help and needs to be stopped. It is better to think of the changes in the system to reduce malpractice.
b)    Public sector and primary healthcare must expand. Public sector should cater to everyone, especially the poor, and become competitive to the private sector.
c)    Doctors must be prohibited from prescribing costly drugs and expensive therapies and investigations. This domain should be restricted to specialists.
d)    The behaviour of the specialists and hospitals should be regulated with a specific code of conduct. But their clinical decisions are “Expert Opinion” and should not be challengeable. Consumer Protection Act should not be made applicable to the medical profession.
e)    Tertiary healthcare needs to be re-looked. At least, it should not be allowed to eat away the budget for primary and secondary care in public sector. It needs to be funded strictly by those who need it.
f)    Doctors need to be re-oriented for primary healthcare. The present education system is faulty and promotes specialisation and super-specialisation which is against the interests of the society.

If these changes are made, defaulters would be few and then, it would be easy to take punitive action against them.

(Dr Sadanand Nadkarni, 80, is the former Dean of Sion Hospital, author of several books, a serious thinker of medical issues and hugely respected for a series of path-breaking ideas on improving the delivery of medical services to the aam aadmi. His book “Management of the Sick Healthcare System” is among the first to speak out about medical malpractice and other issues).


Public Interest Exclusive
The fire at Mantralaya: Lessons to be learnt

The fire at Mantralaya in Mumbai tells us a lot. While much will be talked of whys and hows, priority should be given to reconstruct lost information


I was busy writing something on the notepad on 21 June 2012 when I heard the siren of the fire engine on Babulnath Road sometime after my late lunch that afternoon and wondered where in my neighborhood the fire was. From my verandah on the ground floor with a canopy of trees, the sky is hardly visible. Whenever the fire brigade comes to our area it is generally to rescue a bird entangled in a kite string or an old branch of a tree that is precariously dangling. My curiosity arose further when I heard not one but two or three additional fire engines, couple on Pandita Ramabai Road near Wilson College and one on Babulnath Road soon thereafter with a sound of an ambulance and police sirens put in. I feared the worst. Was Mumbai experiencing another serial blasts!
The security men of our building apparently did not have even a tenth of my curiosity and only on my questioning, did one of them venture to go out onto the Babulnath Road to see what all the siren sounds were for. Meanwhile, as I normally do, took a break by logging in to my Facebook account and saw a posting by my TV journalist friend showing “first pictures of the fire at Mantralaya”. The black smoke of course hid Mantralaya. To confirm this I switched the TV on, given that I had heard more than three vehicles with sirens soundings. There was enough being shown… Mantralaya, the seat of power of the Government of Maharashtra was on fire… Mantralaya that proudly housed the control room of state’s Disaster Management Cell was burning.
I have been to Mantralaya on several occasions. I have been to the conference halls of home department as well as of the chief minister’s. I have been to secretary in charge of the Disaster Management Cell and rehabilitation (after the Killari earthquake), I have been to department of environment, I have been to secretary special projects (Mumbai), etc. Getting into the Mantralaya was not difficult as it was at the invitation of the secretaries concerned but procedures were elaborate. There were two entry points for us visitors and I wondered how during emergencies would people evacuate the building quickly at these bottlenecks? However my fears got set aside when I found that although to a visitor Mantralaya appeared complicated—essentially while looking for a particular department—overall it is a simple concept of corridors and staircases. Other than the two, I found that other staircases were actually for exiting people and entry to ministers and IAS officers. The main staircase was as good as in the open—big landings and windows and lifts.

Thus from my sense of safe design perspective, the path of escape during a fire was adequate. But what was unknown to me or not realized by me was that most of the walls separating different departments were in fact wooden partitions and not the half-brick thick wall. Any office contains lots of papers, and if they are stacked in files they get compressed and take a lot to get on fire on their own. Even wooden partitions do not catch fire just like that. In my limited but reasonably correct experience and knowledge, there has to be (i) heat source from which heat was not getting dissipated quickly and temperature was rising; or (ii) inflammable items were present in good quantity together to catch fire due to un-dissipated heat in the close proximity. I could guess this to be due to malfunctioning pantry equipment on the fourth floor where it is reported the fire seems to have commenced.

What is intriguing is that there are at least four office staff directly attached to the IAS secretary of any department and are expected to know how to be careful with heat sources and how to respond during emergencies. It is reported that fire escape drill was not carried out for a decade—this is something that I find it difficult to digest.

The fire seems to have spread from fourth floor south-west corner where there is a staircase too (assuming that the main entrance is facing south) towards south-east through central staircase and also towards north-west and then north-central. It also spread upwards to the fifth, sixth and seventh floors. Forensic study will reveal the correct picture but to me prima-facie inflammable material must be present all over the 4th ,5th ,6th and 7th floors and were not stored in safe manner.
The photograph shows that the main staircase lobby too was in flames and was perhaps the reason why escape from this staircase and the south-west staircase was not possible for persons on these floors. Also access to the staircase on south-east became impossible as the burning main staircase lobby came in the way. This is why people tried to get off the windows and pipes.

Questions will always be raised as to why fire on the fourth floor and response to extinguish it was so sloppy? Why was human response so slow? One must always remember that there is every possibility of the sprinkler system and smoke detection system failing at critical moments. Communication may fail at any time, but ability to survive is an animal instinct and human intelligence tries to minimize damages. While much will be talked of whys and hows, the action to take is to reconstruct lost information.

It is said that many of the papers have been scanned and electronically stored. In my opinion, the foremost task is to duplicate the electronically stored information and then after safeguarding the original electronic copy, begin taking hard copies.
The government of Maharashtra has already sent appeals to the citizens through Marathi and English newspapers, to help in rebuilding the lost data. I am sure it would obtain similar information from all municipal corporations, councils, zilla parishad and tehsil offices in the state.

A rapid assessment of structural damage by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) team comprising Prof Ravi Sinha and Prof Alok Goyal of IIT Bombay has stated that minimal damage has been caused to the original concrete columns and beams and that ground to third floor could be immediately made operational.

First things first—all occupiers of any building do not wait for fire authorities to come and tell you to keep egress paths clear of any obstruction. Also it is better to check when your instinct tells you that there could be some unexpected burning smell than waiting for someone else to find out. There is no need to panic but verify when in doubt. See that the staircase lobby has emergency lights working on rechargeable battery. Keep a bottle of water handy in case you have to leave your premises under emergency conditions.

(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected])


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