Centre U-turn: To tell SC okay with taking over hospital

A series of official letters and an affidavit by the Ministry of Health in the Supreme Court reveal that the Centre’s decision to take over charge...

Written by Krishnadas Rajagopal | New Delhi | Published: July 19, 2010 12:21:31 am

A series of official letters and an affidavit by the Ministry of Health in the Supreme Court reveal that the Centre’s decision to take over charge of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT) to treat gas victims is a U-turn from its earlier stand to maintain a safe distance.

The affidavit conveys the ministry’s categorical refusal to “take over and run the hospital after winding up the Trust” headed by former Chief Justice of India Justice A M Ahmedi.

The letters,written by government lawyers briefing the ministry about the developments of the day’s hearing at the Supreme Court,show how the apex court repeatedly asked the government to “explain” its refusal to run the hospital for “another few years”. But all that seem to have changed after the June 7,2010 verdict of the Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate,who sentenced eight former Union Carbide employees to a two-year jail term,thus triggering a public furore.

It is garnered from the documents — dated between February and May 2010 — that the government had not officially changed its opinion till the apex court closed for summer vacations.

Monday’s (July 19) hearing on the fate of the super-specialty hospital is the first hearing after the Magistrate’s June 7 verdict. The Centre’s decision to take over the hospital is expected to be conveyed to a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice S H Kapadia.

“The government was always reconsidering its stand taken in the affidavit (Ministry of Health’s),but after the June 7 verdict by the Bhopal CJM we have now taken a firm stand to take over the hospital,” said advocate W A Qadri,the Central government panel counsel who was in charge of the case before the June 7 verdict. “Currently the Attorney General of India himself is appearing in the case considering its sensitivity,” Qadri said.

A reading of the ministry’s affidavit of February 3 suggests how the government at that point in time did not want to get involved in the issue. “Health is a State subject and hospitals are set up and managed by the respective state governments. Since the BMHT is located in the State of Madhya Pradesh,the Government of Madhya Pradesh may be consulted on this issue,” it said. An official letter on a May 5,2010 hearing of the case to the Health ministry reveals a government lawyer seeking “instructions” on a Supreme directive that day,asking the “Union of India to explain as to why direction may not be issued (by the court) to run the BMHT for another few years”.

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