KATHMANDU, Feb 12: His extended family owns a house in Jyatha and a small plot of land in Kathmandu where his brother runs a school. He has around half a million rupees in savings, a few diamond sets, 20 tola of gold and seven kilos of silver, not to mention a car, a motorcycle and the good perks and incentives he enjoys a sitting minister. Defense Minister Bhimsen Das Pradhan is anything but poor.
So, as the government releases Rs 2.5 million to Minister Pradhan for his overseas treatment, questions are being asked whether the taxpayers should bear the medical expense of a powerful politician like Pradhan while the lack of decent medical facilities and cheap medications are claiming lives of many common Nepali citizens.
Last week, a cabinet meeting asked the finance ministry to allocate Rs 2.5 million to Pradhan to undergo a heart surgery in Japan. The hospital has said that it will cost around Rs 3.7 million for the treatment, according to Pradhan. The expenses would be paid to the hospital via Nepal's mission in Japan. Pradhan, a three-time member of parliament from Kathmandu 6, is scheduled to leave for Japan on February 26.
"I have been living with a single artery since November 2011 because I could not afford the treatment," said Pradhan. He was diagnosed with blocked arteries when he suffered a heart stroke on November 23, 2011.
"The home we live in is an ancestral property belonging to five brothers. And the 6 ana land in Nagaarjun is also a common property," he said.
Pradhan is the latest in a long list of politicians to receive medical expense from the state coffers. The records maintained at the Prime Minister's Office show that over Rs 80 million was spent to foot medical bills of politicians since the country was declared a federal republic a decade ago. The beneficiaries include several high-profile figures including former and incumbent president, prime ministers to sitting ministers.
It is not unusual for the government to reimburse the treatment cost of high-profile personalities including politicians. Many countries like India have laws that clearly outline instances wherein the state would bear the treatment expenses of high profile personalities. But there is no clear law outlining circumstances when the state should reimburse the overseas medical expenses of politicians in Nepal. In the absence of a ceiling, the government has been doling out tens of millions for treatment of a single individual at the expense of the taxpayers' money. Since a cabinet decision cannot be a subject to investigation by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the government has been using the state coffers to appease those in power without the slightest fear of consequences.
The government's decision to release the money to Pradhan has not gone down well among the general public. While some are asking whether politicians should be entitled to special treatment from the state, others are using the occasion to start a dialogue on the bleak state of medical facilities in Nepal.
Many others are questioning whether it suits a sitting minister to go aboard for treatment while the treatment for heart-related aliments is available inside the country.
Pradhan said that he choose to go to Japan based on the suggestion of doctors at Martyr Gangalal Hospital. He also insisted that he would not have accepted the medical help if he had enough money. He claimed that he had never received any medical allowance from the government.
"I accepted the money because it's really urgent. Doctors have long warned that I could die anytime if I don't undergo a surgery."