ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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LENTIN COMMISSION-Strong Reactions

Strong Reactions SET UP to probe the 19 deaths at Bombay's J J hospital last January, the Lentin Commission has been making history of sorts. For the Bombay high court judge constituting the commission sees this as more than a limited investigation into hospital deaths, as he could well have. Instituted under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, Justice Lentin had the freedom to define the scope of the inquiry narrowly And it is because he has chosen not to do so that so many interests are now seeking to scuttle or sabotage the inquiry and variously dilute its findings. The commission has made full use of the provisions of the Act to painstakingly accumulate voluminous evidence that has exposed the most rampant corruption which has undoubtedly cost many, many more unrecorded deaths over the years than the 19 accounted for at the J J hospital By the end of July the commission had recorded 3,680 pages of evidence over 238 days and had perused 1,500 files to collect "unimpeachable documentary evidence" pointing to large-scale malpractices in the supply of glycerol and other medicines to the hospitals and to blatant disregard for all rules and regulations at every stage, from the pharmacology department to the dean of the hospital and from the rank and file of the Foods and Drugs Authority (FDA) right up to the state health ministry. The tact that thousands of people would be faced with life-threatening situations because of these lapses has apparently never bothered the conscience of anyone concerned Since the beginning of the inquiry there has been a spate of moves to obstruct the proceedings of the commission Threatening letters have been sent to Justice Lentin, to Navnit Shah, the lawyer appointed to assist the commission, and to I V Raykar, an FDA official who gave evidence which has revealed the extent of former state health minister Bhai Sawant's interference with the FDA In June the state government made an attempt to move Raykar out of Bombay, to which Lentin forcefully objected In the same month Bhai Sawant, now caught in the Lentin Commission's glare, accused opposition members of feeding the com- mission with false information with the intention of misleading the inquiry It caused a minor uproar in the assembly when Lentin chose to respond to these allegations publicly It is, however, the commission's interaction with another former health minister, Baliram Hiray, which has led to a most intriguing situation recently Numerous witnesses and documents examined by the commission have indicated that the Babu Bhausaheb Hiray Smaranika Samiti Trust, of which Baliram Hiray was at one time an office-holder, has been the recipient of funds from several drug firms who were offered numerous privileges, in terms of renewal of licences, awarding of rate contracts and clearing sub-standard samples, etc After what appears to have been a frustrating attempt to examine Hiray on the witness stand for eleven days, Justice Lentin ordered in July that perjury proceedings be instituted against him. Lentin stated that Hiray had tried to tell "brazen lies on oath" until confronted with documentary evidence to the contrary regarding his activities as president of the Bhausaheb Hiray Trust The judge was also constrained to point out bluntly that the former health minister gave his evidence not to assist the commission but "to mislead it". The former minister was ordered to appear before the metropolitan courts by July 14, but he filed a writ petition in the Bombay high court challenging the order on the ground that the commission had no right to institute such proceedings and further that it had no jurisdiction to examine him at the stage that it did. The high court granted an interim injunction, but later rejected the petition.

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