A day’s imprisonment for surgeon; he has to pay Rs. 85 lakh to Singhi

“I never missed a single day of the court proceedings in the last 23 years, whether it was sessions court, High Court high court or Supreme Court. I was fighting for justice for my wife and that was my only inspiration,” said P.C. Singhi, 84, retired IAS officer on Wednesday, talking to The Hindu about the October 15 verdict in what has been one of the longest-running cases of medical negligence in the country.

Top cancer surgeon and Padma Bhushan awardee Praful Desai on November 20 underwent a day’s simple imprisonment till the rising of court and paid a compensation of Rs. 50,000 for showing negligence in the medical treatment of Leela Singhi — the wife of P.C. Singhi — who died in 1989.

Dr. Desai will have to pay Rs. 70 lakh to Mr. Singhi as compensation and an additional Rs. 15 lakh for the expenditure of what has beenone of the longest-running cases of medical negligence in the country.

The criminal court in Mumbai, on July 5, 2011, sentenced Dr. Desai to a day’s imprisonment, which he challenged in the Bombay High Court. Mr. Desai’s plea was turned down in October this year, and the Supreme Court too subsequently refused it.

“I never wanted him [Dr. Desai] to go to jail for a longer period of time, since he has his family. But I did want him to get punishment. My daughters, for the past 23 years, thought that I was wasting my money, energy and time on this case. I won’t blame them; they thought good for me. But I was doing it for justice,” said Mr. Singhi.

It was Mr. Singhi’s application to the Supreme Court that set the precedent for videoconferencing in court proceedings — a doctor in the United States, Earnest Greenberg, who was unable to depose before the Indian court owing to his wife’s ailments, had given evidence by video.

According to the complaint filed by Mr. Singhi, his wife was diagnosed with cancer in 1977. Over the next ten years, she underwent a number of surgeries. In 1987, when she was admitted to the Bombay Hospital following stomach pain, Dr. Desai decided, against the recommendations of Dr. Greenberg, to operate on her. Realising, after he had opened her abdomen, that the surgery was not possible, Dr. Desai had ordered his assistant, Dr. Mukherjee, to stitch up the stomach.

He later denied that Leela Singhi was his patient. After suffering continuous pain for the next 14 months, Ms. Singhi died on May 6, 1989.

“She asked me to take her to our native house in Rajasthan. She did not want to die in the hospital. It was her last wish,” said Mr. Singhi.

In 1988, Mr. Singhi had filed a complaint with the Medical Council of India and written to the police department seeking action against Dr. Desai.

It was only after the report from the council, which took nearly two years, that the police registered a case against the doctor.

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