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Fortis covered under RTI Act

A Full Bench of the Punjab State Information Commission has ruled that Fortis Hospital,Mohali,is covered under the Right to Information Act.

z Land given at concessional rate,it’s a public authority discharging important service to society,says info panel

A full Bench of the Punjab State Information Commission has ruled that Fortis Hospital,Mohali,is covered under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The hospital will now have to appoint a public information officer (PIO) and the first appellate authority to discharge its duties as a public authority.

The bench,comprising Chief Information Commissioner R I Singh and station information commissioners Kulbir Singh,P P S Gill,Surinder Singh and Ravi Singh,said the hospital got land at concessional rate from the government,which meant that it was substantially financed by the state.

The ruling came on Thursday as the bench was deciding the case of Dr S G Damle,Vice-Chancellor of MM University in Mullana,Ambala,whose daughter Dhanashree was admitted to Fortis for a surgery in February last year. In August,he filed an application under the RTI Act,seeking information on the names of doctors who treated and operated upon her; on the make and company of “VP shunt” used in the surgery and its actual cost.

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The respondent,however,denied the information saying it was not covered under the RTI Act. Aggrieved,the complainant moved the commission,where he argued that the hospital was substantially funded by an instrumentality of the state government,Punjab Urban Development and Planning Authority (PUDA),which allotted it land at a rate far below the commercial price for such sites.

Contesting this averment,the respondent claimed that 8.22 acres were allotted to it on freehold basis without any condition of providing free treatment to yellow card holders (poor patients). It submitted that no control was exercised by the government over the hospital,and the land allotment was a one-time policy decision to encourage medical infrastructure in the region.

To find out if the hospital gets any government aid,the commission summoned the deputy chief engineer of Punjab State Powercom Limited,Mohali,on the next hearing,when the latter confirmed that electricity tariff was being charged at commercial rates from Fortis. The assistant excise and taxation commissioner (Mohali) was called too,and he said no VAT rebate was allowed to the hospital.

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In the meantime,Fortis,however,voluntarily provided information on the doctors and the make and company of ‘VP shunt’,but refused to furnish its cost,saying it was a trade secret.

After hearing both sides,the bench said: “A financial benefit,direct or indirect,accrued to a private organisation would mean it received monetary aid from the government. When land is given at a price less than the market price,it results in financial savings to the buyer,which otherwise would have gone to the state exchequer.”

In government,the normal procedure for disposal of all assets was through a competitive process of auction or open bidding,so as to ensure that the state got the highest price,but it was not followed in this case,it said. The concessional rate was charged with a condition that the hospital would provide free treatment to yellow card holders,but this was later withdrawn on the advice of the advocate general,but the rate charged by PUDA (now Greater Mohali Area Development Authority) was not altered,the commission said.

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“The lapse may have happened as a bureaucratic bungling or maybe the government decided to impose this condition as an afterthought,” the bench observed. It said Rs 2,100 per square yard was charged from Fortis for the land when the market rate was Rs 31,262 per sq yd,giving it a substantial financial benefit. “The respondent is a hospital. Given the nature of its business,it is discharging an important service to the society,” the bench said,adding that every institution which impinges on public life or carries out activities that impact community should be transparent in functioning. “Why should the respondent be an exception,” it said,declaring that Fortis was covered under the RTI Act.

First published on: 13-05-2011 at 01:07 IST
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