Who exactly should shoulder the responsibility for the inadequate medical care and the deaths of 29 people at the Beggars' Rehabilitation Centre? The answer remains elusive with each stakeholder pointing a finger at the other even a fortnight after the tragedy began to unfold.

The Social Welfare Department (under whose purview the Central Relief Committee functions), the Department of Health and Family Welfare and the NGO running the Primary Health Centre (PHC) on the campus are all blaming one another for the tragic deaths.

Social Welfare Department officials say the PHC on the premises was the exclusive responsibility of the Health Department, which should have kept a closer check on the deteriorating medical conditions.

Furious buck-passing

Health officials, on the other hand, say the Social Welfare official cannot escape responsibility so easily as it was a facility run entirely by them. Another ground on which the buck is being passed is that the PHC on the campus was run on a public-private-partnership (PPP) model, where the Government bore 90 per cent of the cost, but the actual functioning rested with Karuna Trust, an NGO.

Karuna Trust, on its part, argues that the PHC was running only an out-patient department facility between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. It had just one doctor, a pharmacist and a nurse as per the norms.

H. Sudarshan of Karuna Trust says the deaths had occurred by the time the doctor came on the morning of August 18.

“The doctor would have attended to the situation had he been alerted the previous night,” he adds, accusing Central Relief Committee (CRC) of complete neglect.

While the PHC had no facility for specialised care or admissions, one question remains unanswered: how did the worsening health situation escape the notice of the doctor who was at the centre every day, considering the situation had been bad for quite some time?

Department's denial

G. Harimurthy, the doctor, says the PHC had indeed informed the trust, which in turn had informed the Health Department on the need to strengthen the health infrastructure.

Surprisingly, the Health Department denies this, with sources claiming it had not received any complaints or requests to upgrade the medical facility in the last one year.

Larger questions

Several organisations feel that the turn of events at beggars' home raises larger questions on how responsibility is to be shared in instances where a PPP model is in place. “This raises questions on NGO services and government-NGO relationship,” says Shubha Chacko, Secretary of the NGO Sangama, which is part of a coalition that did an independent fact-finding into the case.

People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), which had earlier complained to the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission on the condition of the home, also plans to probe this question.

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