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Kerala health bill public hearing? Here the minister 'ensured' cameras were turned off

By Our Representative 

On Friday, September 30, 2022, about 100 members of the general public gathered at the conference room of the collectorate at Ernakulam, Kerala, to express their apprehensions about the Kerala Public Health Bill, 2021, which the state assembly referred to a 15-member select committee chaired by state health and family welfare minister, Veena George.
Minister Veena George asserted at the outset that this was a sitting of the select committee, and all cameras would need to be turned off. Advocate PA Pouran, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Kerala, stood up in protest, arguing that the meeting was a public hearing and should ideally be televised to reach vast numbers of people. Other members of the audience protested too, but the minister insisted that the gathering was part of a sitting of the select committee. 
“Why then did you invite all of us?” protested George Mathew, who had arrived from Aluva and earlier served as a member of the local government. The minister prevailed and cameras were switched off. Members of the press were seen leaving, sensing that the meeting could not be reported about.
This correspondent, however, stayed till the meeting ended so that a proper account of the proceedings could be detailed on this website.
All those seeking to intervene were asked to quote the clause and chapter to which they objected, so that minutes of the meeting could be properly maintained and relevant clauses amended.
Advocate Pouran was among the first to speak, asking questions about the need for this legislation at this time – the draft mentions that this bill is to “consolidate and to unify existing laws relating to public health … it is expedient to provide for the unification of the Travancore-Cochin Public Health Act, 1955 and Madras Public Health Act, 1939”. So were state governments asleep until now, asked Advocate Pouran, pointing to the fact that the ordinance of March 31, 2022, would expire on the day of the hearing at Ernakulam, September 30, 2022.
Advocate Pouran also pointed out that under the Panchayati Raj Act 1994 Section 241 clauses 1,2,3, and 4 granted the local government power to control pollution and ban liquor shops that were a public nuisance. In 1999, these clauses were removed and the panchayats no longer have these powers, which were taken over by the state government. Empowering local bodies to deal with these issues would have gone a long way in preventing pollution and strengthening local bodies.
The lawyer pointed to the lack of drains for rainwater to drain off roads in the state; he raised the problem of the rampant plastic pollution and wished to raise other points he had prepared, but was instructed to speak about provisions of the bill, and not generally on public health. 
Unable to place his points before the committee, Advocate Pouran made his displeasure known by walking out. At one point, a member of the select committee taunted him: “Why did you waste money travelling all the way from Manjeri (about 130 km) if it was only to disrupt the meeting?”
Other members of the audience stood in support of the advocate, arguing that the MLAs must not insult ordinary members of the audience.
Music director Alphons Joseph stood up to state that his family relied on homeopathy, and practitioners of Homeopathy must be given due importance in the bill. The term “allopathy” was itself first used by Samuel Hahnemann, who introduced the system of homeopathy, to refer to the “other” (allo) system. One member of the audience, a doctor with the state government, stood up to assert that the term “allopathy” must make way for “modern” medicine, which relies on the scientific method.
A homeopath argued that there is no cure for viral infections within the allopathic tradition. It is well known that Covid-19 was a viral infection, so would it not be logical to ban allopathy while dealing with a viral infection like Covid-19? Homeopaths had a cure for the condition, he asserted.
A practitioner of medicine from the Philippines stood up and held aloft two books by Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum, arguing that there is a concerted attempt to change laws in different countries. India, and its government, he said, must function with an awareness of these designs of the global elite. Minister Veena George intervened quickly to point out that his concerns were beyond the scope of the bill.
George Mathew, who had served as a public representative at the local government in Aluva said that when cases of leptospirosis were reported under his watch, Homeopathy offered a cure and knowledge of the cure was spread in the local community, which was quick to accept it. The outbreak was thus quickly contained.
A young student who identified herself as Hiba said she was still to decide whether to study for the MBBS degree or for other systems of medicine – yet she found it distressing that patients who opted for Homeopathy and Ayurveda were not covered under health insurance schemes of the state government.
One person pointed to the need for any bill addressing public health to also address the issue of soil health and the quality of crops – a health bill without changes in agricultural practices would not serve the purpose, he said.
Members of the audience protested, but the minister insisted that the gathering was part of a sitting of the select committee
When a member of the audience protested that people have the freedom to choose whether they wanted to be treated or not, and no one could be forced to undergo a medical procedure, including isolation or vaccination, minister Veena George replied that if a man suffering from chicken pox insisted on working and being in contact with members of the general public, he might pose risk of infection – “your freedom ends where mine begins”.
Many members of the audience pointed to clause 38 of chapter VII in the draft bill, which provides that “registered medical practitioner of modern medicine” shall offer a certificate that someone has not been infected or has been cured from a notifiable communicable disease. Homeopaths and ayurveds took umbrage at being left out of this process. 
However, it was unclear why there was need for such a provision at all – would not a patient who is cured be the best person to make this assessment? While there is certainly a need for a medical fitness certificate for entrance to the Army, for instance, or for using a swimming pool that other members of the public also use, there is no clear reason for such a certificate, for those cured of infection.
The bill also provides for inspection of premises by health authorities, imposition of fines for not complying with orders from authorities, and several other controversial provisions. One member of the audience pointed out that the current bill is more focused on disease rather than health, and that public health was more than mere prevention of infection.
Not all those who arrived at the hearing were allowed to speak, and those whose questions could not be addressed were told they could submit their objections in writing. As it stands, it appears that the draft bill would need substantial re-working. Chapter X is titled “Healthcare programme for the aged, destitute and the like” – and ends in just two paragraphs. According to Census 2011, over 12% of the population of Kerala was over the age of 60.
The full text of the bill is available here.
The next public hearing/sitting of the Select Committee will be held in state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

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