30 May 2013, TNN
May 30, 2013: It is exactly five years since Dr K V Babu took up the issue of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) endorsing the products of various companies in violation of the medical code of ethics. The case continues to drag on as the Medical Council of India (MCI) gave one more chance for Dr Rajagopalan Nair, Kerala state secretary of the IMA to appear before it after he failed to do so on two previous dates given to him.
On May 30, 2008, Dr Babu complained to the IMA national president about IMAs endorsement of products of various companies like Pepsico and Dabur. Instead of being lauded for having prevented the association from violating the code of ethics, Dr Babu has been harassed by the IMA, which had to forego crores of rupees that it used to earn from endorsement of products.
Even the MCI which is supposed to regulate the medical profession has been dragging its feet in helping an individual doctor’s efforts to ensure compliance of the ethics code. The battle goes on relentlessly as IMA continues to harass Dr Babu for standing up against the system, while Dr Babu persists in fighting his lone battle against the largest and most powerful association of doctors in the country.
The saga of endorsement and harassment:
April 2008– IMA Central Working Committee met and decided to endorse Pepsico products -Tropicana and Quaker
May 2008– Dr Babu K V complained to IMA national president that endorsement was unethical according to the Medical Council of India’s (MCI) code of ethics for doctors
June 2008– Complaint was filed against IMA endorsement to MCI.
August 2008-MCI sent show-cause notice to IMA on endorsement issue
November 2008– IMA ratified minutes of the meeting regarding endorsement
May, June 2009– MCI sent several notices to IMA
July 2009– Ethics committee of MCI took up the issue and decided that IMA was not under the jurisdiction of MCI
July 2009– Dr Babu approached the health ministry to take action against MCI for not upholding the code of ethics.
-Health ministry asked MCI to take up the issue again
August/September 2009– MCI sought legal opinion on whether endorsement by IMA was unethical and whether IMA was within the jurisdiction of MCI
November 2009-Dr Babu approached Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) as no reply was coming from MCI on RTI application on whether endorsement by medical associations was unethical or not. CIC directed MCI to reply by December 31, 2009.
November 30,2009– IMA decided to stop all endorsements in future but would continue already signed MoUs for endorsement
December 2009– MCI clarified that IMA was within the jurisdiction of the code of ethics and that code of ethics was applicable not only to individual doctors but also to professional associations of doctors
March 2010– MCI ethics committee again decided IMA not within jurisdiction on basis of legal opinion of an outdated legal opinion prior to the clarification
April 2010– Dr Babu complained again to the ethics committee of the MCI
May 2010– Dr Babu wrote to MCI seeking information on why no action was taken against office bearers of IMA for violating the code of ethics or MCI regulations 2002 which prohibits endorsement of any commercial product by a physician or group of physicians.
June 2010– NHRC in response to Babu’s complaint directed Health Ministry to take appropriate action on complaint against IMA
July 2010– MCI claimed that IMA was not under its jurisdiction and that action could only be taken on complaints against individual doctors
August 2010– Dr Babu sent a complaint to MCI again, naming individual doctors, 187 members of the Central Working Committee of IMA who decided on the endorsement
MCI declared that IMA was under its jurisdiction and sent show cause notice to IMA
November 2010– Board of governors of the MCI declared IMA endorsement unethical and asked for it to be stopped immediately. Penal action, if any, was to be decided on November 9, 2010
Health minister informed Parliament that MCI had decided to remove the names of the national president of IMA Dr G. Samaram and secretary Dr Dharam Praksh, for 6 months and censure 61 members of the IMA executive.
January 2011– Dr Babu filed a complaint filed to Delhi Medical Council pointing out that the endorsement had not been stopped despite MCI directions
February 2011– PepsiCo stopped using logo and health message of IMA on Quaker oats and Tropicana
IMA Kerala branch decided to expel Dr Babu from IMA for bringing disrepute to the association by complaining to MCI and going to the media
Dr Babu complained to MCI, DMC and Kerala state medical council regarding threat of expulsion and harassment
March 2011-Pepsico officially withdrew IMA endorsement nine months before MoU was supposed to run out.
April 2011– IMA CWC rejects request of MA Kerala to expel Dr Babu since it was not as per IMA bye laws. Request for expulsion was sent back to IMA Kerala
May 2011– MCI and DMC refuse to intervene saying it is a dispute between a member and an association
August 2012– Notice issued from IMA Kerala to Dr Babu appear in person for being instrumental in the publication of an article on the endorsement issue in the press.
Dr Babu complained to the MCI to intervene in the matter
October 2012-Dr Babu appealed to the Health Ministry as MCI was not taking any action on his complaint of IMA’s harassment
November 22, 2012– Health Ministry sought comments from MCI on Dr Babu’s appeal
Jan 22, 2013: MCI ethics committee examined the complaint and discussed the issue
March 22, 2013: Summoned Dr Babu and Dr Rajagopalan Nair, former IMA state secretary. Both parties could not attend
April 26, 2013: Dr Babu and Dr Rajagopalan summoned again. Dr Babu appeared before the MCI ethics committee and presented his case and submitted relevant documents. Dr Rajagopalan failed to appear
May 24, 2013– Dr Rajagopalan was summoned again. He did not appear and the ethics committee has decided to give him one more chance to appear next month.
And so the quest for justice drags on beyond five years.