Doctors on strike for non-payment of salaries, medical students sent on vacation and fleeing patients. The state's premier health institute, Punjab Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Jalandhar, is struggling for life support even as the Parkash Singh Badal government is giving lifelines to the PIMS Medical Education and Charitable Society run by rural development and panchayat minister Surjit Singh Rakhra.
A prime property whose market value is estimated to be over Rs. 2,500 crore was handed over to the concessionaire -- PIMS charitable society -- in January 2010 on a 99-year lease.
But the society has failed to create the requisite infrastructure in the last three years, defaulted in payment of salaries to doctors, been debarred by the Medical Council of India for making fresh MBBS admissions for the session 2013-14 owing to poor infrastructure and has inducted several new members to bail it out of the financial mess.
Yet the steering committee headed by the chief secretary and comprising the principal secretary health conceded more concessions to the society this year by way of induction of seven new "societies" as members to infuse funds overlooking the adverse report of a special committee formed by it to recommend whether such a move was in the "interest of the project and the documents are in order".
'New applicants not from medical, health care'
The four-member committee under special secretary, medical education and research, a representative of Punjab Advocate General office, PIMS Society director and deputy manager of Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB), in its report submitted on June 13 stated that the rules of PIMS Charitable Society permitted the membership of individuals and not other societies. It also observed that the experience of the new societies was neither related to health care nor medical education and five of them had come into being only a month ago.
After dissenting note, additional AG overrules own objections
But the adverse report was pushed under the carpet in the next meeting of the steering committee on June 20, where principal secretary to CM, SK Sandhu, too was present. It decided, "Since the PIDB has been associated with the project and has its own legal cell, all relevant documents will be sent to the PIDB for framing legal issues."
The PIDB framed the legal issues and sent it to the AG office. Interestingly, additional AG Harinder Singh Sidhu, who had signed the earlier adverse report as one of its members, did a U-turn and found a way out of all "legal issues" to make way for the induction of the new members. The governing body led by the CM gave the green signal to the move at a subsequent meeting.
Now Rakhra roots for 'disqualified' Fortis
Despite the Punjab government bending backwards to "accommodate" all demands of the charitable society led by Rakhra, the PIMS is again staring at a deepening fiscal crisis. Surprisingly, while Rakhra said seven new members had yet to move into the charitable society, medical education principal secretary Vini Mahajan said they had been inducted.
Regardless, the charitable society has now again written to the government to allow it to hand over the operations and maintenance (O&M) to Fortis Healthcare, a company that was disqualified on technical grounds during the bidding.
The making of the controversy
PIMS has been courting controversy since it was allotted to the PIDB as a public-private partnership project. The board -- CM Badal is its chairman -- awarded the project to the lone bidder, a consortium comprising NRI Academy of Sciences and others after all other bidders, including Fortis Healthcare and Max Healthcare, stood "disqualified" on technical grounds. The consortium formed PIMS charitable society on January 28, 2009 with Rakhra as chairman. The Punjab government was represented through a separate
PIMS Society which oversees implementation of the concession agreement.
A steering committee was later formed under the chief secretary to monitor the working of the hospital and the medical college and report to the governing body chaired by the CM.
What they say
"The seven new members have not moved into the society. I am just a nominal head and not involved with its working. It is being managed by a team of professionals, NRI Academy and others, who are the original bidders." Minister Surjit Singh Rakhra, PIMS charitable society chairman.
"The seven new members were inducted this year. The charitable society has sent a proposal to allow Fortis Healthcare to handle the O&M of the institute. We have asked it to send us a detailed and firm proposal so that we can decide if it is in accordance with the original agreement." Vini Mahajan, principal secretary, medical education.
"The various members of the charitable society are trying to reach a consensus on the financial situation. The crisis will be resolved within a week. Whether Fortis can be brought in is under the government's consideration." Dr Vimal Sekri, director, PIMS Society.