West Bengal’s home department is struggling to answer questions raised by the auditor general’s (AG) office on reimbursement to ministers of the erstwhile Left Front government for treatment at private hospitals.
The Left Front, which ruled the state for 34 years until last month, counted among its successes, its ability to provide healthcare to 73% of the state’s 91 million people.
But a number of its ministers received treatment at leading private hospitals for even minor ailments such as constipation and abdominal discomfort, and claimed reimbursement from the state, says the AG’s letter to the home department, seeking explanation. Mint has reviewed the letter.
Ministers and their families are allowed to claim reimbursement for treatment in state-run hospitals. They can seek reimbursement for treatment in private hospitals only if the required facilities aren’t immediately available at state-run hospitals.
The AG’s letter says the state government reimbursed several ministers for treatment at private hospitals in 2008-10, without verifying if the facilities they needed were available at state-run hospitals.
For instance, the AG’s letter says the government reimbursed then jail minister Biswanath ChowdhuryRs 78,464 for treatment at a private hospital for “constipation and abdominal discomfort”. Chowdhury was hospitalized for four-five days in September 2009. Chowdhury wasn’t immediately available for comments.
Surjya Kanta Mishra, the erstwhile health minister and now leader of the opposition in the assembly, said most ministers of the Left Front government usually received treatment at state-run hospitals.
“Our (former) chief minister (Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) had a surgery done in (state-run) SSKM Hospital,” he said. “We went to state-run hospitals only and didn’t reimburse ministers for treatment in private hospitals.”
But the AG’s letter shows another former minister got admitted in a private hospital for a day for chest congestion, and claimed reimbursement of nearly Rs 98,000, according to a home department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The AG’s letter says the state government spent close to Rs 14 lakh on terminal medical care of erstwhile sports minister Subhash Chakraborty, who died in August 2009. He was admitted in a private hospital for about eight days before he died.
“The AG wants the home department to explain why these ministers were reimbursed without verifying if the facilities needed by them were available in state-run hospitals,” said the state government official cited above.
Another former minister claimed reimbursement of Rs 11.57 lakh for hiring an air ambulance—a helicopter—to fly his wife to Delhi, he added, and these bills are now being scrutinized.