NCDRC had fixed the compensation on a direction by the apex court, which had referred Saha's appeal to it while holding the three doctors and the hospital culpable to civil liability for medical negligence which had led to the death of Anuradha Saha
The Supreme Court on Thursday directed Kolkata-based AMRI Hospital and three doctors to pay Rs5.96 crore as compensation for medical negligence. The apex court
awarded the whopping compensation to a Indian-origin and US-based doctor for medical negligence that led to the death of his wife in 1998.
A bench of justices SJ Mukhopadhaya and V Gopala Gowda asked the hospital and the three doctors to pay the amount within eight weeks to Kunal Saha, an Ohio-based AIDS researcher.
The National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in 2011 had awarded Rs1.73 crore to Dr Saha whose wife Anuradha died in 1998 following faulty treatment administered at the AMRI Hospital.
Raising the amount of compensation, the apex court also asked the hospital to pay an interest at the rate of 6% to Dr Saha.
The court said out of the total compensation amount, Dr Balram Prasad and Dr Sukumar Mukherjee will pay Rs10 lakh each and Dr Baidyanath Halder will have to pay Rs5 lakh to Dr Saha within eight weeks.
The rest of the amount, along with the interest, will be paid by the hospital, the apex court said, adding that a compliance report be filed before it after payment of the compensation amount.
NCDRC had fixed the compensation on a direction by the apex court, which had referred Saha's appeal to it while holding the three doctors and the hospital culpable to civil liability for medical negligence which had led to the death of Anuradha.
Anuradha, herself a child psychologist, had come to her home town Kolkata in March 1998 on a summer vacation. She complained of skin rashes on April 25 and consulted Dr Sukumar Mukherjee, who, without prescribing any medicine, simply asked her to take rest.
As rashes reappeared more aggressively on May 7, 1998, Dr Mukherjee prescribed Depomedrol injection 80 mg twice daily, a step which was later faulted by experts at the apex court.
After administration of the injection, Anuradha's condition deteriorated rapidly following which she had to be admitted at AMRI on May 11 under Dr Mukherjee's supervision.
Saha, in his plea before NCDRC, had demanded a record Rs77 crore compensation.
Public Information Officers -PIOs not performing their duty of providing information is a frequent experience of an RTI activist
Early this week, I once again experienced rejection, or rather telling of a brazen lie regarding the controversial water cut in Pune that was stalled recently after the public hue and cry. The decision to cut water supply was taken in a meeting of the Canal Committee despite 100% water levels in three out of four dams (that supply water to Pune). When I went for inspection of files in the water supply department of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), I was told by a senior engineer who is also an appellate authority that no minutes of meeting exist as it was a verbal discussion.
I was shocked to learn that a vital issue like water supply is casually decided over a chat between municipal authorities and ministers Ajit Pawar and Harshavardhan Patil who are part of the Canal Committee meeting. I then decided to inspect the same files in the irrigation department and immediately got a copy of the minutes of the Canal Committee meeting. While the documents reveal PMC’s utter negligence in ensuring that Pune does not have water cuts post-good monsoons, it was shocking that a senior engineer of PMC should lie about the non-existence of these documents.
Other activists too have had similar experiences. As per the Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CHRI)’s latest annual report on status of RTI use in India (based on the annual reports of 10 information commissions), only 10% of RTI queries are rejected. Noted RTI activist, Maj Gen SCN Jatar (retd.) counters, “My experience with applications sent by me and by a number of citizens, who come to us for advice, is that the information, which is denied is generally the critical one. Giving you an example, I asked for 'consent' under the Air and Water Acts for municipal solid waste processing plants, both from the municipal corporation and from the pollution control board. Both gave me 'authorisation' under the MSW (Handling & Management) Rules, 2000 and not 'consent'. This critical information is essential because the plants are creating havoc in polluting the ground water and the ambient air. This is adversely affecting the health of the citizens.”
“Of course, we go in for an appeal. The Appellate Authority directs that the information be given. It is again denied. Hence, we put in a second appeal. Currently, the information commissioner is hearing second appeals of May 2011 vintage. Even after the hearing, it takes almost six months to issue orders. The PIO is generally not fined and if fined, the amount is rarely deducted from the person's salary. We want information, which may still be far away. Hence, do we wait for more than three years to get a decision in such critical and straight forward matters? In spite of orders for preference to senior citizens, it is generally not accorded,” he said.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar too agrees. He said, “I am also of the view that public authorities are filing false compliance reports. Maharashtra State Information Commission (SIC) has also said that 96% RTI applicants get desired information—in fact, it is the other way round.’’
Venkatesh Nayak, who has compiled the report for CHRI clarifies that, “We have mentioned in a prominent place that ‘if the figures published in the Annual Reports are to be believed’. I have no way of finding out if the figures are accurate, hence the cautionary phrase. This report sets the ground for undertaking such inquiries. As these reports are to be tabled in the respective legislatures one would presume that the SICs and Central Information Commission (CIC) are submitting true facts as collected from the public authorities. It is absolutely crucial to cross check the claims about disposals and rejections. Our report should be used as a basis to question the reports of ICs as no such attempt has been made till date.’’
Excerpts from the CHRI’s latest annual report of RTI use in India:
Proportion of Rejections at the RTI Application Stage
Anecdotal evidence across the country has made many civil society actors and activists believe that rejection of request is the norm in many public authorities and access to information is an exception, which they believe amounts to reversing the objectives of both RTI laws. However, if the data published in the Annual Reports of Information Commissions covered by this study is to be believed, only a small proportion of the total number of requests is rejected at the application stage.
• In States with smaller populations like Meghalaya and Mizoram less than 1% rejection was reported at the RTI application stage.
• In Karnataka where public authorities received close to 2.93 lakh (293,000) requests the proportion of rejections was a mere 0.30%.
• Some of the highest proportions of rejections were observed in the context of public authorities under the Central Government (8.14%) and those under the State Government of Maharashtra (7.2%) both of which received more than 6.5 lakh (650,000).
• Although the macro picture in all governments covered by this study indicates rejection of not more than 10% of the total number of RTI applications received, some of the public authorities had very high rates of rejection. For example, the rejection rate at the offices of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Directorate General of Safeguards was 100%. The offices of the Director General, Income Tax (Investigation) based in Ahmedabad (86.8%), Jaipur (71.6%), Kolkata (66.7%) and New Delhi (59.5%) also had a very high rejection rate.
• The Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission has reported that while RTI applications received by public authorities in that State grew phenomenally, the rejection rate dropped from 9% (2009-10) to 4% (2010-11) and stood at 1.37% for the last reporting year (2011-12).
• Only the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have provided in their Annual Reports, clause-wise break up [Sections 8(1)(a) to (j), 9 and 24] of the number of times the exemptions were invoked by public authorities to reject information requests at the application stage.
• The largest number of rejections of RTI applications (15,279) in public authorities under Central Government occurred on the grounds of protecting personal privacy [Central RTI Act, Section 8(1)(j)]. In Andhra Pradesh the exemptions pertaining to contempt of court and prohibition on the disclosure of information by courts was invoked most frequently (131 times) to reject RTI applications [Central RTI Act, Section 8(1)(b)]. Public authorities in Karnataka are said to have invoked most frequently (101 times) the exemption relating to police investigation, arrests and criminal trials [Central RTI Act, Section 8(1)(h)].
• More than 4,000 RTI applications are said to have been rejected because they
pertained to the 25 intelligence and security organisations notified by the Central
Government under Section 24 of the Central RTI Act.
• Information Commissions must pay special attention to public authorities, where rejection rates are very high to see if the exemption provisions and public interest override clauses contained in Section 8 are being invoked by the public information officers or the first appellate authorities with due application of mind. Fewer the number of rejections, lesser will be the number of appeals and complaints.
• All Information Commissions must collect and publish data about the number of times exemption clauses are invoked by public authorities to reject RTI applications as this is a statutory requirement.
• Information Commissions must collect and publish data about the rejection of RTI applications by organisations notified under Section 24 of the Central RTI Act and Section 21 of the J&K RTI Act in keeping with the statutory mandate of accounting for all instances of rejection of requests by public authorities.
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”)
Most important point, in the whole onion episode, is the way every authority is overlooking hoarding and supply controls by wholesalers and middlemen to secure high prices
The common man's luxury of onion consumption was covered in Moneylife issues recently. In spite of repeated assurances by the government, the aam aadmi continues to shed tears for the non-supply and the galloping prices of onions, if he can lay his hands on them. In fact, the price has sky-rocketed close to Rs90 a kilogram in some places and it may hit the Rs100 mark soon, before the festive season.
What has the government done so far to alleviate this basic requirement and grievance of the aam aadmi except for "promises" and "assurances" in ‘kilograms’, free of cost?
In the meantime, potatoes and tomatoes too have joined the onion bandwagon, and the prices of these have gone up between 25% and 40% in most cities.
Before the onset of cyclone Phailin hitting the Odisha and Andhra coasts, the price (of onions) had more or less stabilised and was hovering around Rs50 per kilogram. Now, after the cyclone hit these two states, trade sources claim that both harvesting and transportation have become difficult!
It may be recalled that when the onion crisis was in the embryo stage, the government had announced that the import of onions had been approved and shipments were expected from China and Pakistan. Egypt was the third source of supply.
It was also projected that onions from Karnataka would be hitting the market by the middle of September. True, the situation in Karantaka is better than before. But details are not available of the quantity of onions actually received from China and Pakistan, if any, and at what cost?
In any case, it appears to have made no difference to the market, as the demand remains high. On the top of this, according to Rajinder Sharma, chairman of Azadpur Mandi, in Delhi, the buyers have found imported onions to be less "tasty" compared to their counterparts from India!
In the meantime, protests have also been made as to why India should export onions without meeting its home demand first. The Gulf countries have been our traditional markets for a number of products and agricultural supplies are a regular feature for decades now. Just because we have failed to control the nefarious activities of middlemen and hoarders, we cannot afford to stop shipments to places like Dubai. We need to accept the fact that these are also staple items for consumption for fellow Indians, who are toiling in the desert sun!
We must also remember that both India and Pakistan were the main suppliers of onions to the Gulf countries. Because of our fluctuating policies, many other suppliers have come into the market. In the recent report that Moneylife carried on the onion situation in Dubai, we had mentioned the price factors. Now, we have additional information that Australia (Dh4.95 per kilogram) and USA Dh6.95 per kilogram) have started supplying "brown" onions to Dubai. At the current exchange rate of Dh1 = Rs17.50 these are not cheap, but, by and large, are consumed by expatriates from these countries.
Reverting to the Indian situation, it may be noted that NAFED (National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation, Nashik) has been the apex body for onion exports. Now, the government proposes to entrust them with the task of importing additional quantity of onions from Turkey, Afghanistan and Egypt, besides China and Pakistan, to overcome the current impasse. Why didn’t they think of this earlier so as to not let the matter precipitate to this level? The imported onion is estimated to be priced around Rs40-45 per kilogram, an acceptable price situation, though, at the peak season, indigenous supplies would be costing anything between Rs10 and Rs15 per kilogram.
On this issue, there is really no use taking it up with Sharad Pawar. He did not bother to frame a workable solution with regard to rotting foodgrains in the FCI (Food Corporation of India) godowns. Nor, did he support the idea of distributing the same to the poorer section of the community, free of cost!
KV Thomas, on the other hand, has recently come up with the idea of setting up smaller
versions of godowns in various places, which will be able to reduce the storage problem, and possibly, reduce the control that some cold storages have in hoarding these onions!
But the most important point, in the whole exercise, is the way every one in authority is overlooking the hoarding and supply controls by wholesalers and middlemen to secure high prices. It is time the government wakes up from its deep slumber and breaks up this mafia, which appears to be well entrenched.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)