In a major setback to the Capital’s poor patients, the Delhi High Court on Monday quashed a policy decision of the Union Government asking private hospitals to provide free treatment to poor patients even if there is no such provision in the land allocation agreements between the two.

Reacting to the judgment, activist lawyer Ashok Agarwal told The Hindu that he would move the Supreme Court against this. It was on his petition that the High Court had in 2007 directed these hospitals to provide free treatment to poor patients.

There are about 15 such hospitals in the Capital which will benefit from the judgment by a Division Bench of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice R.V. Easwar and inversely thousands of poor patients will lose free treatment at these hospitals, including St. Stephen’s Hospital, Moolchand, Sitaram Bhartiya and Foundation for Applied Research. The benefits can also extend to those hospitals which were provided land at concessional rates by the Delhi government sans the free treatment provision in the lease agreements.

The judgment came on petitions by these four hospitals challenging the government decision to oblige them to provide free treatment to poor patients at the rate of 10 per cent and 25 per cent in in-patient and out-patient departments of their capacity.

These hospitals had taken the stand that there was no provision in their land allocation agreements that they would provide free treatment to poor patients nor was there any clause for revision of the agreements in the middle of the lease period.

The government had taken this policy decision alluding to the High Court and the Supreme Curt decisions which had approved free treatment to poor patients by those hospitals which were provided land at concessional rates by the Land and Development Office (L&DO). Later, the Delhi government had also asked those private hospitals, which were provided land at concessional rates by it, to provide free treatment. It had done this on the recommendation by a committee. It had set up the committee when it was pointed out that several hospitals which were allotted land by it at concessional rates were exempt from providing free treatment to poor patients.

“Land and Development Office order dated 22.2.12 , the impugned letters from the GNCT 24.5.12, 28.6.12, 7.06.12...are quashed,” the Bench said.

“The court is also additionally of the opinion that the allotment letters and lease deeds being conclusive on the rights and obligation of the parties, further directions through the impugned order imposed unilaterally, would be justified only if the governing statute or even the conditions of lease deeds enable such change. In the present case, however, what the government is seeking to achieve is untenable and unauthorised alterations of concluded contracts with altogether different hospitals and enjoyment of benefits arising from them,’’ the Bench further said.

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