Rayomand Coins

The nays have it

Will the appeal signed by 37 prominent consultants associated with The B. D. Petit Parsee General Hospital (PGH) requesting the Hong Kong based donors, Pervin and Jal Shroff, the Gurgaon based Medanta Group and all those opposing the scheme to save the Hospital from financial doom make a difference? Many of the eminent doctors who have treated Parsi patients free of cost or at greatly reduced rates are held in high regard.

But to assume for even a minute that the dissenters would have rescinded their opposition on the appeal of the consultants is wishful thinking. They were, and are, adamant to block the proposal. They not only dismissed the doctors’ plea but questioned their intelligence. Nauzer Bharucha, a senior editor at The Times of India and a critic of the proposal, likened the "eminent doctors" to "dumb-driven cattle" in a post on the Jam-e-Jamshed (JeJ) Facebook page. Rayomand Zaiwalla, whose parents Meher and Khushru have filed an application opposing the scheme in the Charity Commissioner’s (CC) office, inquired of the doctors on the JeJ Facebook page if they would "first hand over their own residences to Medanta on the same terms and conditions as the PGH property is sought to be given." Activist Zoru Bhathena who along with businessman Aspi Deboo has also filed an appeal opposing the proposal before the CC inquired rhetorically on the JeJ post, "Do these doctors know anything about the deal? Surely they have deliberately been clueless or else no doctor would ever sign such a letter." He too likened the deal to leasing a one crore flat for a pittance and also permitting the lessee ownership rights in an adjoining flat.

While their arguments are totally specious and untenable — one cannot compare leasing a flat with equipping and running a hospital as a business — the approach and attitude does offer an insight into the thinking of the objectors. They have found PGH a favorable whipping boy and appear to relish in bashing the Hospital. One critic, who out of cowardice and fear of being sued remained anonymous using a pghospital2018@gmail.com email id to post his/her scurrilous views, alleged the Shroff-PGH scheme was "viewed as a massive scam to skim off money from the PGH in the form of kickbacks into Swiss bank accounts for the high and mighty PGH board."

If such is the level of animosity to the PGH management, the donors and the scheme, why did the doctors "beseech the dissenters to relook with a true and open mind, that all aspects of the community welfare are secure, and then be honest and fair and permit the project to go through with their blessings." The dissension is not about honesty and fairness or the community’s welfare and well-being. It is about power and politics.

The Shroffs had pledged a magnanimous donation of USD 22.5 million and Medanta agreed to manage the proposed new cosmopolitan hospital from which PGH would receive a percentage of the turnover and a fixed amount annually. In an email dated April 6, 2019 addressed to the Editor, Pervin and Jal Shroff wrote: "Re our original pledge of USD 22.5 million, to ensure the future viability of the Parsee General Hospital, we had set a deadline of March 31, 2019, which regrettably has now lapsed. 

"After our recent discussions with the members of the executive committee and the honorary doctors of the Parsee General Hospital we wish to clearly state that we shall continue to support the Hospital in any way deemed prudent and financially sound to ensure the PGH’s future survival and well-being."  

The email did not specify whether the deadline for the contract with Medanta would be extended, But PGH insiders told Parsiana the proposal has been dropped.

In a democracy, any party has a right to approach the courts of law to set right a real or imagined grievance. The courts weigh the pros and cons and decide on the merits of the case. Past experiences in major community development schemes have demonstrated that there will always be adversaries and litigators. Many of them may have valid concerns. One has to learn from their objections, the judgments pronounced and proceed accordingly. Doing nothing is not an option. Once a trust takes up a scheme, it should take the community into confidence and proceed expeditiously.

In the case of the Parsi Lying-In Hospital, after obtaining the CC’s approval and winning a battle in the Bombay High Court (BHC), the promoter lost interest when a dissenter moved the Supreme Court (SC) to "save" the institution that now stands forlorn and forgotten. The investor wished to put up a super specialty, orthopedic hospital. The dissenter alleged the promoter was afraid of losing his case before the SC and hence withdrew. But with the passing of years, a business model that once appeared viable may no longer be so.

In the Batliwalla agiary case, after gaining the CC’s approval, winning in the BHC, the trustees lost in the SC, one reason being a public notice had not been issued calling for offers for leasing an adjoining residential complex belonging to the trust. Of course, facts and circumstances vary for each case. Judges may hold divergent points of view and interpret the laws differently. The laws can change.

"In the tribunal you will not find three judges of the same opinion on a single point of law," wrote the French writer Honoré de Balzac around 1830s in his novel Old Goriot. The element of judicial risk always looms.

What could the PGH have done differently to ensure a positive outcome? They contend they followed the law and did what was legally required. But they overlooked the other side of the equation. They assumed, as did most, that the community would warmly welcome the donation and arrangements arrived at, which in a large part they did. According to an online poll by computer consultant Yazdi Tantra, 85% of respondents favored the scheme but US based activist Baku Taila dismissed the informal survey as an "absolute fake online poll."

By not taking the precautionary, though not compulsory, step of giving a public notice, seeking the CC’s approval, having a public dialog, keeping the community informed and involved, PGH made themselves vulnerable to dissenters who wished to either indulge in a power play or genuinely believed they had the best interests of the community at heart.



Villoo Poonawalla