Kasaragod: In July 2022, the LDF government in Kerala told the Supreme Court that "it has provided medical facilities to endosulfan patients by providing infrastructure, equipment, specialist doctors and staff in the hospitals".
The state government's 20-page affidavit was in response to a contempt petition filed by eight endosulfan patients on providing compensation and medical facilities and treatment for life-long health issues.
The affidavit was, of course, a bunch of half-truths and was exposed by a detailed report submitted to the Supreme Court by the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) on January 2 this year.
The state government did not withdraw the affidavit seeking closure of the contempt petition in the Supreme Court. But in January this year, it submitted another affidavit to the High Court of Kerala. This time, it told the court that the "health infrastructure in the district is not enough to cater to the present requirement".
The state government made the U-turn to justify its "unprecedented" order permitting all the local bodies in the district to donate up to Rs 24.5 crore to a CPM-controlled cooperative hospital in Kanhangad, say activists and opposition leaders.
In March 2022, the Local Self-Government Department put out an order saying Kanhangad Cooperative Hospital needs financial help and that the local bodies can donate from their 'own fund' for the cause, with the approval of their boards or councils.
To be sure, the cooperative hospital is started by CPM leaders of the district.
The government order said the District Panchayat can donate Rs 1 crore, Kanhangad municipality can donate Rs 2 crore, the other two municipalities (Kasaragod and Nileshwar) and the 38 grama panchayats can donate Rs 50 lakh each, and the six-block panchayats can donate Rs 25 lakh.
The slab for donation was set by the cooperative hospital and approved by the government.
If all the local bodies -- 38 gram panchayats, three municipalities, six block panchayats, and the district panchayat -- pitch in as per the slabs, the hospital would pocket a neat Rs 24.5 crore.
But the UDF condemned the order calling it a blatant misuse of power. BJP state secretary K Shreekanth moved the high court challenging the order calling it arbitrary. "Why should public money be lavished on a hospital run by CPM leaders? How will people benefit? The treatment is not going to be free of cost," he told Onmanorama.
He said the government allowed Kanhangad municipality to donate Rs 2 crore to the cooperative hospital when the Women and Child Hospital in the town is lying in disuse since it was inaugurated in February 2021.
The LDF controls 19 grama panchayats, two municipalities, including Kanhangad, four of the six block panchayats, and the District Panchayat.
"If they dip into their own fund, the hospital can get up to Rs 14 crore. That's why I moved the court," said Shreekanth, a former president of BJP's Kasaragod district committee.
'Government's stance is revealing'
The Local Self-Government Department, however, said the order it issued in March 2022 was "well deliberated and examined by the government against the backdrop of the state's intention to improve the health infrastructure of Kasaragod district".
The state government has identified the "inadequacy" of health infrastructure in Kasaragod district, it said and added that the Kasaragod Cooperative Hospital would provide quality and affordable healthcare to the people.
Sections 216, 213, 212 (9) of the Kerala Panchayat Act and 283 (6) of the Kerala Municipality Act empower the government to issue orders permitting the local self-government institutions to provide funds from their own fund for healthcare which would benefit the people in their local area, the affidavit said.
The order granting permission to donate money to the hospital "would enable local governments to participate in ensuring viable and relevant health infrastructure in a district that has constraints", said the affidavit.
It said the health sector scenario of Kasaragod district "reasonably warranted the government to act in support of a cooperative hospital to be established at Kanhangad by exercising the discretionary powers vested with the government". "The order was issued in the larger public interest," the affidavit said.
Shreekanth said the sections said local bodies can fund projects in their local areas. "How will a local body in Manjeshwar benefit by funding a hospital in Kanhangad?" he said.
The government's affidavit in the high court is self-reveal and self-serving, said K K Ashokan, secretary of the Confederation of Endosulfan Victims Rights Collectives (CERV Collectives), which helped survivors file the contempt of court petition against the government in the Supreme Court.
Kasaragod has several hospital projects in limbo because the government is not adequately funding them. The contractor of the medical college hospital block stopped work because the government did not clear his bills worth Rs 8 crore.
The taluk hospitals, the family health centres, and the community health centres are understaffed and ill-equipped as exposed by the report submitted by the secretary of the District Legal Service Authority.
"But the government never brought out such an order urging local bodies to cross-fund such projects," he said. This order is a licence for extravagant expenditure, it will bleed the local bodies and benefit a few, Ashokan said.