Govt allows local bodies to part with Rs 3.6 crore for CPM-controlled cooperative hospital

  • The government in its order approved the hospital's rate card for different types of local bodies
  • Pauper Nileshwar municipal council to discuss the request for Rs 1 crore tomorrow; UDF councillors says they will oppose the proposal
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Thejaswini Cooperative Hospital and Medical Research Centre. Photo: Special arrangement

Kasaragod: The CPM-led LDF government has done it again for a party-controlled cooperative hospital. This time, the government has permitted Nileshwar-based Thejaswini Cooperative Hospital and Medical Research Centre to raise up to Rs 3.6 crore from the 22 local bodies in Hosdurg and Vellarikkundu taluks.

The government order, issued in May 2022, became public after the chairperson of the CPM-controlled Nileshwar municipal council, T V Shantha, included the request for Rs 1 crore from the hospital in its agenda for Tuesday's council meeting.

Councillors of the Congress and the IUML said they would not allow the municipality to release a rupee to the hospital. Congress leaders said they were not against the hospital which was providing good service at cheaper rates than private hospitals. "We are against giving money to a cooperative hospital because, one, we don't have money, and two, taxpayers' money should go to government hospitals, not cooperative or private hospitals," said Congress councillor E Shajeer.

This is the second time the LDF government has issued such an order, that too, endorsing the rate card set by the hospital management. In April 2022, the Department of Local Self Government headed by the then minister M V Govindan, permitted all 48 local bodies in Kasaragod district to cumulatively donate up to Rs 24.5 crore to the CPM-controlled Kanhangad Cooperative Hospital in Kanhangad.

With the consent of the respective boards and councils, the order said the District Panchayat can donate Rs 1 crore; Kanhangad municipality (controlled by the LDF) can donate Rs 2 crore; the other two municipalities (Kasaragod and Nileshwar) and the 38 gram panchayats can donate Rs 50 lakh each, and the six block panchayats can donate up to Rs 25 lakh to Kanhangad Cooperative Hospital, to the new hospital in Kanhangad.

BJP state secretary K Shreekanth challenged the order in the High Court of Kerala. But the High Court Division Bench headed by the then Chief Justice S Manikumar, dismissed the PIL.

Shreekanth, an advocate, said the petition was taken up by the bench on April 12, the last day before the court went on vacation. Justice Manikumar retired on April 23. The other judge on the bench was Justice Murali Purushothaman.

Justice Manikumar
Justice Manikumar retired on April 23. Photo: Manorama

'Not donation, but becoming shareholders'
The government order allowing Thejaswini Cooperative Hospital to raise money from local bodies is slightly different. One, it restricts the donor local bodies to Hosdurg and Vellarikkundu taluks; two, it is not a donation but local bodies would get shares in exchange for their "investment".

Councillors of the Congress and the IUML said they would not allow the municipality to release a rupee to the Thejaswini Cooperative Hospital and Medical Research Centre. Photo: Special Arrangement

CPM state committee member and two-time MLA K P Satheesh Chandran is the chairman of the cooperative hospital, established in 2006. He said the society is building a four-storied hospital on the highway at a cost of Rs 20 crore. The hospital would need fresh funds to complete the project, which is in the last phase. "But the money is not only for the new building," he said. The hospital's bylaw allows local bodies to become shareholders but they would need the government's permission to invest in a cooperative hospital, he said.

In March 2022, he wrote a letter to the government to allow local bodies in Hosdurg and Vellarikundu taluk to buy shares in the hospital. In the letter, he wrote that Nileshwar municipality should be allowed to give Rs 1 crore, the two block panchayats -- Kanhangad and Nileshwar -- should be allowed to donate Rs 25 lakh each, and grama panchayats in Hosdurg and Vellarikkundu taluks, and Kanhangad municipality should be allowed to give Rs 10 lakh each to the hospital.

One month and a half later, on May 18, 2022, the Department of Local Bodies endorsed the rate card but said the money should be given from the 'own fund' of the local body with the approval of the respective councils or boards.

If all 24 local bodies shell out money as mentioned in the government order, Thejaswini Hospital could mop up Rs 3.6 crore. The UDF-controlled local bodies are unlikely to join the party. The LDF controls three of the seven local bodies in Vellarikundu taluk; and 12 of the 15 local bodies, including Nileshwar, in Hosdurg taluk. All of them pitched in as per the government order, it would come to Rs 1.4 crore.

If all 24 local bodies shell out money as mentioned in the government order, Thejaswini hospital could mop up Rs 3.6 crore. Photo: iStock/Dev Manik

The two block panchayats are also controlled by the LDF but they do not have 'own fund', which comes from house and building tax, professional and service tax, and registration fees from businesses. "So we think the government will give the share which is again taxpayers' money," said Eruvat Mohanan, the president-designate of the Nileshwar Mandalam Committee of the Congress and former president of the erstwhile Nileshwar grama panchayat. That would take the total to Rs 1.9 crore.

But Satheesh Chandran said he has sent the request for money only to around five local bodies. Only the Nileshwar municipal council is considering giving Rs 1 crore to the hospital.

Nileshwar has no money to spare for development work
Nileshwar, which was upgraded to a municipal town in 2010, has an 'own fund' of only around Rs 2.45 crore, said Mohanan. "But ends up spending around Rs 2.6 crore from the own fund," he said.

More than 30% of the 'own fund' goes to service loans taken from Hudco to fund the government's Life Housing Mission. Under the Life Mission in urban areas, the State government gave Rs 2 lakh, and the local body pitched in with Rs 2 lakh. But if a local body does not have money, the government arranges loans for it from Hudco at a nominal interest rate. "The burden of paying the loan became so high that the municipality decided not to take any more applications for houses in 2019-2020," said Mohanan, who was a councillor then. But the government pressed the municipality to accept applications, considering the election to the local bodies was slated for December 2020.

"We got 120 applications. Later, the government said it did not have money to foot its share of Rs 2 lakh for each beneficiary. So the municipality had to take a loan for the entire amount," he said. Now Nileshwar municipality gives around Rs 80 lakh to Hudco from its 'own fund'.

When every rupee is crucial, the municipality deposited Rs 3 lakh with KSEB to maintain its street lights as part of the government's Nilaavu scheme. The scheme is the government's attempt to convert streetlight bulbs to LEDs in all local bodies. "We bought around 600 lights for all 32 wards. None of the lights is working and our Rs 3 lakh is blocked with KSEB," said Mohanan.

IUML councillor Rafeek Kottapuram said the municipality is building a bus stand-cum-shopping complex for Rs 14 crore, almost all of it is borrowed money. "I fail to understand why the hospital's request is even an agenda," he said. could not reach the chairperson Shantha on her phone. Vice-chairperson P P Muhammed Rafi said the council would decide on investing in the hospital only after discussing it Tuesday afternoon.

When asked if the municipality had the finances to even consider such a proposal, he said the investment need not be Rs 1 crore. According to LDF leaders in the municipality, the council may be inclined to give around Rs 10 lakh to the hospital.

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