Coming straight to the nub of the matter, let me begin by first and foremost pointing out that cracking down on the abhorrent practice of strategic hospital admission by politicians accused of a crime, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment has imposed a whopping fine of `1.4 crore on two doctors from a hospital in Gurugram district of Haryana in the NCT of Delhi. The hospital, the Court observed, had deliberately sheltered a politician Balbir Singh who was charged with murder and other offences, for allegedly killing a businessman by the name of Vishnu on May 6, 2011, under the police station limits of Kalanaur in Haryana’s Rohtak district. This could under no circumstances be allowed to go unchecked and unpunished !
To put things in perspective, these two doctors were held guilty of allowing a former Haryana legislator Balbir Singh, against whom non-bailable warrants had been issued in a murder case to remain in the hospital for 527 days without any justifiable reason as he was not suffering from any ailment. Ostensibly, he was receiving treatment for heart-related ailments. The Court observed that the two doctors were responsible for “such prolonged admission” of the former INLD MLA against whom repeated non-bailable warrants were issued by the courts in connection with a murder case. It asked the doctors to deposit the fine amount with the Apex Court registry within two months.
The Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra, AM Khanwilkar and MM Shantanagoudar had refused the contention of the petitioner to cancel the licence of the Gurugram-based private hospital but agreed to impose a fine of `1.40 crore on the two Gurugram-based doctors for giving “medical asylum” to former Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) legislator Balbir Singh after his bail was cancelled in 2013 by the Apex Court in a 2011 murder case.
As it turned out, the hospital’s Medical Director Munish Prabhakar and Managing Director KS Sachdev were held guilty of contempt by the Supreme Court which had said they had “obstructed” in the administration of justice. The Haryana police had visited the Private Hospital owned by Dr Sachdev in Gurugram in Haryana to take custody of Balbir Singh alias Bali Pehalwan but the hospital authorities had refused to discharge him. Subsequently, the hospital said that the former INLD legislator was fit to be presented in the court, yet he was not discharged. The Apex Court’s order had come on a plea filed by one Sita Ram who was the informant in the FIR lodged in May 2011 in the Rohtak district of Haryana. Sita Ram had sought initiation of contempt of court against Balbir Singh for “willful and deliberate violation” of Apex Court’s October 24, 2013 order. The Apex Court had then set aside the February 11, 2013 order passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court granting bail to Balbir Singh after the victim’s brother challenged it and directed him to surrender forthwith.
Be it noted, Balbir Singh did not surrender even after the Apex Court order, following which a trial court had issued non-bailable warrants against him. When the Court was informed that Balbir Singh was hospitalized, it had asked the police to verify it and during the enquiry, it was found that he was admitted in the hospital for 527 days. During the adjudication of the matter, both the doctors had told the Court that they were not aware that there was any direction to Balbir Singh to surrender to custody.
The victim’s family had then approached the Court which ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The report revealed that Balbir Singh was not suffering from any serious disease. His stay at the hospital was only to evade arrest, the investigating agency said. Following the enquiry which showed that the MLC did not have a single test conducted while in hospital or pay a single rupee to the hospital, the court found the hospital’s MD and a doctor guilty of obstruction of justice. The court noted that the ailments did not warrant any hospitalisation. The records also showed that he routinely had visitors and went in and out of the hospital umpteen times. A CBI probe had found that the murder accused was admitted to the hospital on 47 occasions when he was to be in jail.
Balbir Singh was finally discharged from the hospital on May 1, 2015 after the Apex Court accused the hospital of protecting the accused and sought an explanation. He was discharged from the hospital 527 days that is roughly 17 months after considerable efforts were made in that direction.
Finally, on 15th December, 2016 the Court convicted Dr Munish Prabhakar and Dr KS Sachdev – the two senior doctors of the hospital. The top court led by former Chief Justice of India TS Thakur had earlier initiated contempt action against the errant politician Balbir Singh who was a member of the Haryana Legislative Council and the two doctors for helping him to evade arrest for 527 days on the specious plea that he was ill. The Supreme Court stated explicitly: “The conduct exhibited by the ex-MLC in getting himself admitted in the hospital when there was no medical reason to justify such admission and in continuing to remain admitted till action was taken by this Court, exhibits scant respect and regard for the orders and processes issued by the Court. Despite issuance of notice, he has neither filed any response nor tendered any apology.”
Appearing for the victim’s family, Advocate Rishi Malhotra had argued for cancellation of the hospital licence as it is a common practice among the accused VVIPs to take asylum in private hospitals without any physical ailment to frustrate the court orders against them.
As things stand, on July 6, the Supreme Court will decide on how to utilize the money to help the under-privileged. Balbir Singh was accused of opening indiscriminate fire at a grain market in Rohtak in May 2013. One person by the name of Vishnu had died and eight were injured in the firing. Initially, he had been given bail by the Punjab and Haryana High Court but it was quashed by the Supreme Court which asked him to surrender. But he got himself admitted in a Private Hospital to avoid arrest by the police. The trial court had repeatedly passed orders directing police to arrest him but it failed to take action. Between November 2013 and May 2014, the trial court had issued non-bailable warrants for his arrest on five occasions, but he chose not to respond to them. “This shows that the illness as projected was not serious at all and no intensive treatment as indoor patient was required or called for,” the Apex Court – which had also slammed the state police – had noted.
It may be recalled here that earlier in the conviction order that was issued on 15th December, 2016, the Court had turned down the plea of the hospital that it was not aware about the Court’s order.
In a loud and clear warning to doctors and hospitals which help convicted politicians to feign illness to dodge the long arms of the law, the Bench of the Apex Court in its landmark judgment had minced absolutely no words in stating unequivocally: “Both these medical professionals are responsible for such prolonged admission which was actuated by only one reason which was to extend medical asylum to the respondent (the accused) as a cover to defeat the orders passed by this court and the trial court. In this process, these medical professionals not only helped him in violating the order of this Court but they also obstructed the administration of justice.”
“This prolonged admission without any justifiable medical reason was essentially to defeat the direction issued by this Court and repeated non-bailable warrants issued by the trial court,” observed the Apex Court. “The leader,” the Supreme Court said, “had campaigned for the elections for his party INLD addressing multiple rallies across Haryana.”
Thus we can see that a complete mockery of all laws, rules and regulations were made by Balbir Singh along with the two doctors who were hands-in-gloves with him.
Let me also bring out here that not just Balbir Singh but even his party supremo and former Chief Minister of Haryana – Om Prakash Chautala who was jailed on corruption charges for 10 years was also accused of misusing bail granted for medical treatment. This certainly cannot be allowed to go unhindered, unchecked and uninterrupted again and again.
All said and done, the Supreme Court with this landmark judgment has sent out a very loud and clear message to all the doctors that they cannot allow a criminal to stay in their hospital like a patient for a very long time especially when they were fully fit. By slapping a whopping fine of `1.4 crore on both the doctors, the Supreme Court has made it crystal clear that those doctors who abet a crime by allowing the criminals to hide in their hospital in the name of getting treatment done would have to pay through their very nose and they would not be let off just by tendering a mere apology for their misdeeds. There are a handful of doctors who by indulging in such wrong acts are bringing a bad name to the profession considered one of the most noble professions in the world.
I strongly feel that doctors must be made accountable if they without any plausible reason admit any criminal in their hospital for any unreasonable length of time and this is exactly what the Supreme Court has very rightly done in this landmark case.