In Retrospect

This 'heal' is not real

We have all enjoyed Munnabhai MBBS, the film. But it has never occurred to us that if such Munnabhai-like doctors and their Circuits were a reality in one's own life, how pathetic and grim the scenario would be. Notwithstanding the gravity of the situation, it's raining Munnabhai MBBS in Bengal. And considering India's character and constitution, it would not be surprising if we get similar reports from other parts of the country as well.

Swanky private hospitals, government-run healthcare units, every lane, by-lane and every nook and corner of the state are germinating doctors with fancy degrees from fancier medical institutions, some of which may be really difficult to locate, though.

Over the past month, the Bengal Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has been bringing to light this monstrosity that has been silently ailing the state's medical system.
With the state Medical Council on a massive mission to sanitise the health system, the agency is systematically cracking the whip on fake doctors who have been practising and prescribing medicines illegally without an appropriate degree for years now.

Not only have they been enjoying considerable clout, they have been successful enough to make a name for themselves as well as amass huge assets and properties. With the lid off of a massive fake doctors' racket, till now, at least 15 people working with bogus medical certificates have been arrested. There are reports that at least 500 more medical practitioners are under scanner along with seven to eight fake medical institutions, which are handing out fake degrees.

Among the arrested include a list of those who have been working for years at leading private hospitals in Kolkata or the suburbs while the others were associated with state-run facilities and private clinics.

The racket came to the fore on May 3 when the CID arrested two practitioners employed in government-run hospitals in North Bengal's Alipurduar and North Dinajpur districts.

On May 25, Ramesh Chandra Baidya, a member of the "Alternative Medical Council Calcutta", was arrested for his alleged involvement in supplying fake certificates. During the probe, he confessed to selling more than 500 fake degrees for lakhs of rupees. For an extra Rs 10,000, he would even provide a "gold medalist" certificate.
The first arrest came with a person who was identified as Kaiser Alam from North Bengal. He worked at Kolkata's Ruby General Hospital since 2015.

A one-off case was that of Subhendu Bhattacharya, who recently got an award from President Pranab Mukherjee and is the owner of a private nursing home in Howrah. His list of degrees and his Facebook profile are enough to impress anyone. He claims to have studied at Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Cambridge.

While officers initially believed that the award might be fake, sources suggest that footage has since emerged showing Bhattacharya accepting an award from the President. It is, however, not known if the award is connected to the medical field. He claimed to be the youngest member of the Royal Colleges of Physicians (MRCP, UK), for which he also held the Guinness World Record, at least that is what he claimed.

The accused — a resident of Ramrajatalla's Kedarnath Bhattacharya Lane — was nabbed from Howrah near his home after being on the run for around two weeks. Bantra police station in Howrah had received a complaint from a doctor identified as Ayan Ghosh, who had alleged that Bhattacharya was using his registration number to run a private nursing home — Kalpana Women and Child Care near his residence, apart from which he was also associated with other clinics.

The others arrested so far have been identified as Naren Pandey who was attached to Belle Vue Clinic, Ajay Tewary (a 'consultant gastroenterologist' with leading private hospitals when in reality he only had a BCom degree), Ram Shankar Singh (has a private chamber in Howrah), Khusinath Haldar (employed in Madarihat block primary health centre in Alipurduar), and Mohammed Akbar Ali from Kolkata's Panchasayar area.

Naren Pandey, a fake doctor with Belle Vue Clinic in Kolkata, was in possession of a "fake" MBBS degree and owned a diagnostic centre at Dr Suresh Sarkar Road in Moulali. Pandey had been claiming to be an allergy expert but during interrogation, he confessed that his qualification was that of a Unani practitioner.

Ajay Tewary was arrested from his clinic in South Kolkata. He claimed to be a "consultant gastroenterologist" with a big private hospital in the city — the Kothari Medical Centre — and was allegedly using a fake Medical Council of India registration certificate. According to the hospital management, Tewary had been treating patients at the institute for 20 years. During its initial probe, the CID found that Tewary's claim of having an MBBS degree from Assam was false and that he was actually a commerce graduate.

Ram Shankar Singh ran a chamber beside his medicine shop at the ground floor of his residence in Howrah. A local resident Bholanath Bhandari had visited him with his wife for her treatment recently. He claimed that his wife's condition worsened after following his prescription, after which Bhandari, accompanied by his neighbours, went to Singh's chamber and asked for his registration certificate.

Singh, understandably, denied to furnish it. Bhandari along with the others immediately informed the police and Singh was arrested after it was found that his MBBS certificate was fake.

Singh, who had a steady practise in Howrah, had a mouthful of degrees trailing on the signboard of his clinic. The degrees — MBBS, Biochem, MD, DIAAMS, DMALT — whatever it might mean, had been drawing patients in hordes for years.

Amid the constant stream of arrests, the state Medical Council has pleaded helplessness, saying it neither had judicial powers nor could act like police but claimed that the racket was busted after it asked for medical registration of doctors in the state.

According to reports, West Bengal Medical Council president Nirmal Maji has alleged that some fake doctors were active in government hospitals, while in private hospitals and nursing homes, "they call the shots". He alleged that seven to eight "illegal private institutions" have been supplying "bogus medical registration numbers".
Majhi, also a Trinamool Congress MLA, cautioned that the panel would take strong action against the accused.

He said: "We appeal to the common people to alert us if they find anyone, claiming to be a doctor, suspicious. We have already lodged a complaint with the Bidhannagar police station against 11 such persons. There are several fake doctors in those hospitals where raids are yet to take place. Even Ayurved specialists are working as Resident Medical Officers. The criminal investigation department has been probing the racket."

The council, on the other hand, has appealed to people to inform it if they suspected anybody to be a fake doctor. On the CID's insistence, it had issued a directive to doctors to register themselves afresh, renew and update their credentials with them.

In a latest twist, an Inspector-in-Charge of the women police station at English Bazar in Malda arrested a fake doctor to whom she had gone for treatment after she fell ill. The woman IC, Sarbari Bhattacharya, while being examined, became suspicious and started questioning him. In the face of interrogation, the accused, Md Alamgir became puzzled and finally admitted that he never did an MBBS course. He was taken to the police station and was later arrested.

During interrogation, the accused, however, told the police that he had completed a homoeopathy course from Midnapore Medical College and Hospital and obtained a degree. However, police are yet to ascertain if he had obtained a homoeopathic degree or not.

Rajesh Kumar, ADG CID, says: "All sorts of measures have been taken to uproot the menace. Now, common people have also joined this movement and are coming forward with necessary details that will eventually help us to arrest fake doctors."

For ages, the medical scenario in India has been a dismal one. Rising cases of female infanticide, malnourishment, superstition and dearth of medical facilities in rural areas coupled with communicable diseases — all provide a wide open "window" for the innumerable quacks and fake doctors who have made a name of their own in the business.

With little access to education and awareness, the common man is left on their own to deal with the menace. And the "fake" doctors, through years, have thus enjoyed a "cult" status and grown by leaps and bounds.

A recent news report in New Delhi's less affluent areas like Sangam Vihar and Chanakyapuri's Sanjay Camp-1 found that quacks are openly practising medicine in make-shift clinics. Most researchers and doctors attribute the free run of quacks to "police inaction" and "lack of political will".

Some even went to the extent of claiming that around 70 per cent of doctors in the city are quacks. The patients who visit them in large numbers consider these people as their first option because of the low consultation fees that the latter charge which is sometimes less than Rs 100.

Health Minister of Karnataka KR Ramesh Kumar recently informed the Legislative Council that as many as 2,869 cases of fake doctors had been detected lately. He also admitted that the government was also at fault for not preventing this at the primary level. He further added that the government is aware of fake doctors posing as genuine medical practitioners.

This trend is not new. "It's better late than never. We have constituted an expert committee to streamline medical practitioners, including cracking down on fake doctors. The committee is expected to submit its report in a month's time," he was quoted in a report. In an unabashed manner, the trade of "fake" has grown and grown bigger. One must have heard of fake businesses, fake numbers, fake job rackets, fake letters, so on and so forth.

But to come to terms with "fake" doctors has to be quite an experience since the helplessness and dependence connected with it is simply overwhelming. With such shocking revelations coming to light, the atmosphere is that of suspicion and mistrust. And this unlicensed and unbridled growth of the Munnabhai-like doctors have certainly made sure that none of us stay alive without having bumped into them, at least once at some point of life.
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