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Are Somnath, Pranab soldiers?

Are Somnath, Pranab soldiers?

Author: Eklavya Atray
Publication: DNA (Daily News & Analysis)
Date: March 19, 2009
URL: http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1240444

They swear by the Indian soldier in public. But in private, Union ministers, senior bureaucrats and many others do not hesitate to exploit health facilities meant exclusively for the Indian soldier.

Using the Right to Information Act, DNA carried out a detailed inspection of records at the army's Research and Referral (R&R) Hospital in the capital. It found that hundreds of civilians were treating themselves at the prestigious hospital using their powerful connections.

Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, former president R Venkatraman and several IAS officers, including secretaries, former defence secretaries and serving defence ministry bureaucrats were among hundreds of civilians treating themselves at the prestigious hospital.

There were also many unknown faces, who obviously came with strong recommendations. In fact, R&R hospital, the largest military hospital in India, has treated over 750 non-entitled patients in the last five years.

DNA found that these men and women were treated for diseases ranging from common dysentery to complicated surgeries, viral fever to life-threatening complications. In return the patients paid peanuts, the subsidised rate military personnel are entitled to.

The authorities covered up the staggering exploitation of military resource by saying that the hospital commandant was empowered to make exemptions for outsiders. But this comes at a time when the defence ministry is paying crores annually to private hospitals for treating retired military personnel and their kin under the ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme, due to shortage of facilities in military hospitals.

The R&R also treated about a dozen of its own civil staff though the rules strictly forbid it.

An official said on anonymity, "The non entitled patients are billed on the same terms as army officers. The treatment here is so much cheaper."

Among the non-entitled patients treated at R&R in the last five years were 371 relatives of ex-servicemen, 163 foreigners and ministry of defence officials and 257 civilians.

Foreigners are admitted on the defence ministry's approval. Non-entitled patients are admitted following a written request from the patient or his related service personnel, depending on bed availability, nature of illness and emergency of the patient.

After approval from the commandant, the station commander sanctions the application for the non-entitled treatment.

Among the well-known faces, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee was treated at R&R for serious injuries suffered in an accident at Birhattala in Nadia, West Bengal, in April 2007. Speaker
Somnath Chatterjee was there for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Late former president R Venkatraman was admitted there in January after he complained of severe dehydration.

Then home secretary VK Duggal was treated for diarrhoea in 2005. Deputy national security adviser and then defence secretary Shekhar Dutta was treated for acute lateral myocardial infarction single vessel disease in November 2006.

Former defence secretary Ajay Prasad was treated for viral fever when he was civil aviation secretary in May 2006.

Senior defence ministry civil servants getting treated at the prestigious hospital include Debnath Shaw and Gautam Chatterjee.


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