RJD chief Lalu Prasad, father of Bihar health minister Tej Pratap Yadav, gave the Opposition some fodder for controversy when he instructed a health official in Darbhanga to reinstate a group of workers sacked two years ago.
The MNCHN workers, or Mamtas, focus on issues of maternal, newborn and child health as well as nutrition and also act as a bridge between the most marginalised communities and government health facilities.
Opposition leaders were quick to seize the opportunity, as BJP leader and former health minister Nand Kishore Yadav termed Prasad’s action as that of a “super chief minister”.
Prasad scripted a stunning win for an avowedly secular alliance led by JD(U) leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar in last year’s assembly elections with the RJD emerging as the single-largest party, but the state government and the former CM himself have been targeted by rivals over his chequered past.
“Yes, I did talk to the officials,” said Prasad. “Why not? Thousands of people come to me for redressal of their grievances. So, what if I helped someone? I am not the one to be ruffled by the Opposition’s charges.”
The rules of executive business do not allow the leader of a political party, or any public representative, to issue directions to a government official, say experts. They can, at best, deliver an advisory.
Referring to Prasad’s telephonic instructions, Darbhanga civil surgeon Dr Sriram Singh wrote to the medical superintendent, Darbhanga Medical College Hospital (DMCH), advising him to take necessary action.
A copy of the letter, available with Hindustan Times, has also been marked to Prasad in his capacity as the RJD president.
Dr Singh refused to comment when HT approached him.
DMCH superintendent, Dr Santosh Mishra, however, accepted having received the civil surgeon’s letter on Monday.
“The civil surgeon is the appointing and relieving authority of the Mamtas. Even their payment of remuneration was initially done through the civil surgeon. He has to take a call on them. I have no role in it. I will clarify my position to him,” Dr Mishra said.
The superintendent has forwarded a copy of the letter to the principal secretary, health, RK Mahajan. HT’s effort to contact Mahajan proved futile, as he did not respond to calls or a text message.
The health administration had sacked 15-20 Mamtas deputed at the DMCH over two years ago.
The BJP reacted sharply. “Clearly there are two power centres in Bihar — one of chief minister Nitish Kumar and another of Lalu Prasad. It is high time Kumar clarifies his position,” said party leader Nand Kishore Yadav.
Prasad had on January 3 “inspected” the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences and issued verbal directions to its officials after going around the super-specialty centre and talking to some patients admitted there.