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Should medical bills come under scrutiny?

Should medical bills come under scrutiny?

Observer, Feb 13, 2018

In a modern democratic society it is natural that public expenditure comes under scrutiny. After all expenses incurred from money collected from the masses needs to be spent with proper justification. The cause for which the expenditure is incurred should be above questioning. The expenditure should be the minimum. There should be enough care and scrutiny at the various stages of expenditure so that there is no scope for question or suspicion at the end.

In the good old days of freedom struggle scrutiny on expenses with public funds was looked at with an eagle’s eye. Even expenses incurred by leaders from their own resources were under scrutiny. Simplicity and austerity were the hallmark of the then leaders.  Parsimony of Mahatma is written about copiously. Using pencils till the last centimetre, preserving papers received utilised only one side, using torn clothes after duly stitching the torn area, et al were the rules of Mahatma. Wastage was banned. Even on conservation of water Mahatma had his code. Some leaders may have violated Mahatma’s moral code. But there was a watch on all, particularly when they were in his Ashram.

Even the great Mahatma was not spared. Such was the system then. Total accountability was expected from all.  No one above criticism, freedom to question all and everything was an open book. Mahatmaji who lived almost on subsistence level travelled on minimum expenditure but had a goat with him as he preferred to drink goat’s milk and had to carry cattle food too, which consequently,made the travel cost marginally higher.  This made Sarojini Naidu comment, Oh Mahatma! It costs a fortune to keep you poor.

It is another matter that these days people elected to manage public funds do not show the needed care and supervision in public expenditure.  We have cases of not wasteful expenses but making money while spending public money by a number of veteran leaders, both khadi clad and others in lily white attires or hues of their choice. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had said that in free India the corrupt would be hung from the next lamp post. But even he could not implement that.

As days passed by things changed as the world changed.  Even khadi has changed, not a poor man’s attire anymore.  If one goes to the showrooms of Khadi and Village Industries Commission one will realise that Khadi is indeed expensive, particularly the ones in silk.  Meetings are no more masses squatting on the ground but in air conditioned halls with push back chairs.  Yes, a lot has changed, some inevitable perhaps, responding to the changes around.

But what has spread like cancer is corruption. All parties are infected by this scourge. A few leaders from all parties are free from this fortunately.  But their number is steadily declining, like species threatened with extinction. Most of the major deals by the government involve a percentage for the party or the person heading the department, mostly engaged in public service! It is not restricted to any geographical area but spread all over India. The volume of such corruption has increased by Himalayan proportions.  

So much so, in the last two decades the highest growth rate is in corruption.  Though Modi era is comparatively better, the recent allegations on the purchase of Rafale aircrafts for the military from France, and favour for some business groups as well as favours received on air travel, etc. have raised suspicions and questions in the absence of convincing answers.

It is to the credit of the Media that most of these corrupt deals are brought out, and to the credit of the judiciary that its intervention is paving the way to prosecute a number of them.  But corruption is all pervading so much so that punitive measures are not a deterrent.  The nexus between the politician and the criminal, large scale of entry of criminals into politics, high cost of elections and opulent living style of people wielding power have led to abandonment of simple living and high thinking as well and consequently puritanical public life.

Media as the watchdog and judiciary as the guardian of justice is saving the situation through credibility of the system. Corruption free India looks almost impossible though we can aim for corruption less system in the given circumstances.

Media is playing a great role in exposing the misuse of public funds.  However a recent expose of expenses incurred by Speaker, Health Minister and Finance Minister requires an objective debate.  If on medical advice a minister incurs expenditure can it be flawed? Surely the expenditure involved may appear unjustifiable, but is there a choice for a veteran leader or a common man if the doctor advises so?  Since they are occupying a constitutional position and there are rules governing them, if the expenditure is within the prescribed regulations, can it be found fault with? In the case of Finance Minister the expenditure on the higher side is seen in the room rent.  Is it not necessary for a minister to continue his official function even while undergoing Ayurvedic treatment? For that hiring a room or two extra for office purposes is surely needed.  Also Ayurvedic treatment is not all that cheap these days.

There may be some flaws in this argument as all the facts have not come out. But a patient is expected to go by the advice of his or her doctor and expenditure to follow the suggested treatment and measures should be accepted as justifiable.

What is striking is that two claims are to the tune of thousands of rupees. One is a little over one hundred thousand rupees, almost a pittance. These days corruption runs into crores and mostly over a hundred crore of rupees. Is it fair to read too much into medical expenditure on doctor’s advice?  


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