| 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
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.