CALLING IT the “most popular healthcare scheme for the poor and vulnerable”, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told The Indian Express that his government will not “tolerate any misuse” of the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund (CMRF).
Responding to the findings of an investigation by The Indian Express, highlighting several gaps in implementation of the scheme, Fadnavis said: “We will file (cases of) criminal offence against any misuse.”
Fadnavis added, “A few instances of misuse were observed, hence a very strict scrutiny committee has been set up… 100% audit of each case was also ordered. Now we have set up a mechanism of concurrent audit of the cases. It’s mostly driven by the recommendations of all party members of legislatures, and social leaders.”
The Chief Minister said that “it would not be proper to say that there has been gross misuse of the scheme”.
When contacted, Praveen Pardeshi, Additional Chief Secretary, Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), said: “Strict action will be taken in all cases where irregularities are found. We will initiate police action in cases where benefits were claimed fraudulently. We will further strengthen measures to tighten the approval process.”
The CMRF is a registered charity trust constituted on March 2, 1967, with state ministers and bureaucrats on the managing committee. The scheme includes a medical assistance component for patients classified under Economically Weaker Section (EWS).
In 2001, the Congress-led government first decided to utilise funds from the CMRF for medical assistance to poor patients. Records show that between 2009-10 and 2014-15, the CMO spent Rs 43.06 crore from the fund to pay for medical expenses of poor patients. In its first 35 months in office, the BJP government released Rs 237.16 crore for 23,267 cases, making it one of its most popular welfare schemes.
Explaining the surge in applications, Omprakash Shete, head, Medical Assistance Cell, CMO, said the government’s “priority has been to save the lives of poor people”.
“A committee of doctors evaluates applications before they are sanctioned. We are now in the process of putting in place more checks and safeguards,” said Shete.
On March 13, 2015, the government set up a dedicated medical assistance cell within the CMRF. The maximum medical aid under the programme was hiked from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2 lakh on August 13, 2015 — and up to Rs 3 lakh from January 26, 2016. It was also decided that the CM can use his discretion to sanction higher amounts.
While the CMRF’s original guidelines restricted assistance to life-threatening emergencies, the scheme’s scope was expanded to cover medical aid for elective surgeries and minor procedures for poor patients.