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   Home >> Library index >>Learning Disability >> Parents struggle to get info from Sion hospital 
Parents struggle to get info from Sion hospital 
By Rukmini Shrinivasan/TNN 

Mumbai: Fed up with what they allege is corruption and malpractice which they have encountered in Sion Hospital’s Learning Disability Clinic, a few determined Mumbai parents and educators are taking the fight to the hospital—using the Right to Information Act as their weapon. Sion hospital is the only centre in the state where children can be tested for learning disabilities (LD) and given the all-important LD certificate. 
The Counsellors Association of India (CAI) is planning a court plea against the hospital’s LD centre following complaints from parents. 
On January 18, Medha Lotlikar, a special educator at the Parents Forum for Appropriate Education of the Child (PACE), sent an application under the Maharashtra Right to Information Act (MRTI) to Sion hospital. The application asked for information about the testing procedures at Sion hospital. However, the reply, given by Dr Madhuri Kulkarni, head of the department of paediatrics, says Lotlikar, was unsatisfying and Lotlikar has resent her request for information a few days ago. 
“Most of the replies are vague and are not replies to the specific questions we asked,’’ says Lotlikar. The reply, of which TOI has a copy, ignores many of the sub-questions. While the application asked 13 questions, only one was answered. “All the questions relating to what happens to students who study in Indian languages have been ignored,’’ she says. Sion hospital conducts tests in English only, and several special educators have objected to this as only a small minority of children in Maharashtra study and speak in English. 
“Since LD was first detected in Western countries, the tests are available in English. It is not our job to develop tests. If people from the education field come forward to develop tests in vernacular languages, as has been done in Karnataka, we will use them,’’ says Kulkarni. 
In another application, Runa Damji, another special educator with PACE asked questions related to the definitions of ‘slow learners’, ‘mental retardation’ and ‘learning disability’. She also asked how many cases the hospital has identified in each of the three disabilities. 
This time, the reply said the number of cases was “confidential’’ and gave only an approximate figure. “Certain information need not be disclosed under 7(k), MRTI,’’ it added. However, the section says that information need not be disclosed only if it “relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relation to any public interest’’. Kulkarni says the clinic had responded to the requests for information as best as they could. 
The information they have got has given Damji and Lotlikar food for thought. “They have said they dealt with approximately 1,000 cases of LD from April 2003 to February 2005. But they have also said they conduct seven tests, each of which takes at least one hour. So if they can manage only one test a day, how have they conducted 1,000 cases in less than two years?’’ Lotlikar asks. She says she knows children who have got the certificate without stepping into the hospital. Kulkarni vehemently denies any allegations of irregularities and says, “It is one of the best clinics and people from all over India and abroad come to see the work.’’ 
For years now, parents of children who may have LDs like dyslexia, dysgraphia or discalculia have done the rounds of Sion hospital. Since it is the only centre in the state, the wait is long and sometimes leads to students failing the year. “Several parents admit to having paid bribes to speed up the process and get the certificate. Parents say they are treated rudely and that the tests frighten the child,’’ says Dr Harish Shetty, president, CAI. 
While several counsellors have been asking the state to set up more testing centres and end Sion hospital’s monopoly, the hospital, says Dr Shetty, has not asked that its burden be eased. “It is not our job to put a request. Other people can come forward,’’ says Dr Kulkarni, agreeing that the clinic is overburdened.