Bombay High Court rejects Pune Hospital’s Petition to Utilize Money in Indigent Patient Fund for COVID-19 Patients Not Falling Under EWS

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Grant Medical Trust Ruby Hall Clinic filed a petition in the Bombay HC. It wished to use funds meant for EWS patients for COVID-19 patients. The Bombay HC rejected the petition filed by the Pune Hospital.

Issue

The suitor is a charitable trust set up under the Bombay Public Trust Act. It currently owns and manages Ruby Hall Clinic. The latter is a well-known hospital in Pune.

Economic Weaker Section (EWS) is a sub-category under the General Category. It includes people earing a family income of fewer than ₹8 lacs per annum. The EWS funds of the hospital were set up under the ‘Indigent Patient Scheme’. The Court directed that the suppliant is free to use the fund for patients. This applies to the treatment of both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. However, these patients must fall under the EWS category.

Section 41AA Of The Bombay Public Trust Act

The High Court had earlier approved a Scheme for free treatment of indigent and EWS patients. It was put into force under Section 41AA of the Bombay Public Trust Act. The Scheme allows reservation of beds and free treatment of indigent patients. Public hospitals will provide treatment to such patients under this scheme. The scheme includes other features related to funds allocated to indigent patients. Additionally, it includes making non-billable services free of cost.

Petitioner’s Arguments

Adv. SR Nargolkar and Adv. Arjun Kadam appeared for the Petitioner. They stated that the hospital did not perform any life-saving or planned procedures during the lockdown. These are procedures that cross-subsidize the costs of treating EWS patients. Nargolkar put forth that the Out-Patient Department is completely shut down. Hence, the Trust is receiving no income from it.

The funds of the Trust have dried up. However, it still has to bear the salaries to the staff and surgeons. Furthermore, it has to pay electricity, water and sewage expenses.

Proceedings

The Trust represented itself before the Deputy Charity Commissioner. It sought permission to use the mentioned funds for treatment of other patients. The Chief Minister and the State also received the same request. On May 14th, the  DCC of Pune opposed reliefs sought by the suitor. The Trust did not reveal its financial status. Neither did it have a financial plan (IPF) for an emergency.

Court’s Observations

The Court observed that the Trust did not reveal the amount of money in the Indigent Patients Fund. It also noted that the petitioner did not reveal amounts lying in its deposit accounts.

The fund lying in the Indigent Patients Fund is worth around ₹3 crores. Further, the Asst. Legal General Manager for the Petitioner made some written submissions.

Decision

The Court noted that the Trust was not submitting details about its income and expenses. It had put forth statements instead of records of expenses incurred. Further reports showed that the Trust owns a fixed deposit worth ₹68 cr. They use this money for capital expenditures.

The Court decided that the case requires a detailed hearing. It also held that patients could be treated using the funds in fixed deposits instead.

The State would dispose of the Petitioner’s representation in 2 weeks.


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