Guest post by HARSH TANEJA
The Government of India has recently gifted its bureaucrats a privilege. The state will reimburse the total cost of medical treatment abroad for the three highest civil services officers (the IAS, IPS and IFS).
And this entitlement is not limited to procedures that cannot be carried out in India.
According to this newspaper report, these officers and their families can decide to go abroad for even routine procedures such as bypass surgeries. A privilege that is unfair, undemocratic and borders on institutionalized corruption. Here’s why.
First, the most obvious argument pointed out in the newspaper article itself, is the huge expenditure to the exchequer. However that to me is the beginning of why this is problematic. The following two concerns are perhaps more grave.
The first argument is that such an entitlement cannot be limited to the officers of the Three Elite Services. Let me explain. India has a socialist public health system. In other words, our public hospitals treat every citizen according to their income. The poor are charged the least and so on. (Certain government jobs entitle all employees to medical treatment at government expense). The network consists of primary health centers, district and state hospitals and more specialized referral hospitals such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at New Delhi. Every patient irrespective of social or economic status can be referred up to AIIMS for treatment. So if treatment abroad has to be on government expense, why should it not extend to all beneficiaries of the Public Health system? Should the option to go abroad for treatment at government expense be based on your status in the government or on the complexity of your illness?
Readers familiar with Animal Farm may remember what the pigs did for themselves.
The second argument is that such policies will only lead to further degradation of the Public Health Infrastructure. I recently had written about how a state hospital was unable to treat a case of hydrocephalus, a rather common condition among infants and elderly. The IAS run our health ministry and hence ensure the functioning of this system. If they are allowed to avoid and escape the system for their own use, they will never empathize with the concerns of the infirm common man. An analogy can be found in public transport. India’s public transport is pathetic because those who oversee its smooth functioning are not its users. They ride chauffeur driven cars, which contribute to their apathy towards the plight of those who ride trains and buses.
This law needs to be immediately challenged in the courts. Beyond the most direct arguments of an expenditure the government should not incur, there are other grave concerns.
Such policies are based on flawed principles.
I am willing to work with any individual or organization that wants to file a PIL, organize a protest and represent against this decision. Please email me/ comment here and I will be all ears.
Harsh Taneja can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org