The attack on health director Sanjeev Dalvi in his official chamber on Thursday by R Venkatesh, a doctor who was hired by the government to provide dialysis services at the South Goa district hospital at Margao and the Community Health Centre at Canacona was shocking. Venkatesh claims to have been agitated over the failure of the directorate of health services to clear his dues running into several lakhs. Venkatesh had been providing dialysis services for last 15 years. If he decided to be violent he must have been frustrated on being made to run from pillar to post for the money which was legally due to him for a long period. The officials in the South Goa district hospital are on record to state that the average bill raised by Venkatesh for his services was Rs 2 lakh per month. The average bill for his services at Canacona is also supposed to be in that range or even more as many people in the southernmost taluka of the state have kidney-related ailments and are in regular need of dialysis.
It is not unusual for the state government to delay paying dues to service providers hired by various departments. However, it is for the first time that a government officer has been attacked by anyone for failure on the part of the government to clear his pending bills. There have been attacks in the past on doctors by members of families of patients, but no one was attacked for non-payment of dues. What is surprising is that the assailant managed to carry with him a spanner in his bag to attack the director of health services. The initial report said it was an iron rod. How could the assailant manage to give a slip to the security personnel of directorate of health services? And was it just a coincidence that the power supply failed just at the time when Venkatesh entered the cabin of the health director? Because of power failure there is no CCTV record of his movements. Why did not the staff of health services respond immediately after Dalvi cried for help? It has also been alleged that the assailant doctor carried a bottle of petrol or kerosene with him in his bag. He allegedly emptied it in the bathroom attached to the office of the director where he was locked up.
That the attack took place at the headquarters of directorate health services (DHS) and that too on the head of the department has exposed the vulnerability of government staff and the security. There are at least a dozen security persons deployed at the DHS. They failed to detect any of the items used in the attack, which indicates that they do security checks casually. The security persons are supposed to be trained to handle trouble makers and attackers. But they proved to be absolutely incompetent men, just drawing their salaries for providing no real help in an emergency situation. The assailant was desperate and could have caused loss of life and files and property had he been able to carry out his plan. The government has to make sure the security persons supposed to be providing security to government offices and officials are not just pathetic scarecrows. The agency providing security services should be selected on the criteria that should judge whether they have proper training. The government must make it compulsory for the security persons to thoroughly check the bags of and frisk anyone entering a government office.
However, the crux of the problem in the Thursday attack is the government’s indifference to the payment demands of the service providers. The government has often been accused of delaying payments to contractors hired by the public works and other departments and the suppliers to various departments. The health department is also outsourcing services and supplies. The department has to streamline the payment system for the individuals or companies providing the outsourced services and supplies. Delay in payment to service providers or suppliers might compel them to stop providing services or supplies causing interruption in services. As dialysis is a life saving service, the government should have been alert that those providing services were promptly paid so as to ensure that the services continue uninterrupted. Even if there is a dispute over the bills raised by the service provider, there should be a mechanism to quickly settle the dispute. The police have registered a case against Venkatesh. However, the government should not let those officials go unpunished who kept his bills pending for years.