A Doctor’s Retirement

Poll officials must check if extension to Azgaonkar violated model code

There is a controversy over the Goa government’s decision to extend the retirement age of doctors employed under the Employees State Insurance (ESI) scheme from 60 years to 62 years. This is because among the beneficiaries of the order is Dr Shrikant Azgaonkar, the brother of Deputy Chief Minister Manohar Azgaonkar. The order has been criticised by the opposition parties and the Goa Government Employees Association that have said the decision is a violation of the model code of conduct which is in force in view of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. It is strange to note that the government authorities woke up just in time when Dr Azgaonkar was to retire and issued the order so as to allow him to continue in service, though other doctors will also benefit from the order in the days ahead. It was in 2016 that the state government had increased the retirement age of doctors serving in the health services from 60 years to 62 years and for the doctors in the Goa Medical College Hospital to 65 years.

The extension of service to his brother is not the first case of nepotism Deputy Chief Minister Manohar Azgaonkar has been accused of. Some of his decisions as minister in various governments have favoured his brother, daughter and son. In 2011 he was accused of nepotism when his daughter was appointed as a junior scientific officer in the sports department when he was sports minister. He was alleged to have taken his family, including his brother and sister-in-law, on a tour to the United States where he had gone officially as tourism minister to promote tourism in Goa. Another charge of nepotism against him is that of appointing his brother Dr Shrikant Azgaonkar on the board of the Goa Tourism Development Corporation and Goa Football Development Council. He was also accused of trying to appoint his brother as chairman of GFDC. The restaurant owned by his son Trivesh was chosen for hosting tourism department’s official ‘after-party’ on the conclusion of the recent EDM (electronic dance and music) festival. His son also got permission to set up a floating restaurant on the River Mandovi when he was tourism minister.

The Congress and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party have urged the Election Commission of India to take a suo motu action against the department of labour and employment for the enforcement of the government order on extension of retirement age for doctors to favour a minister’s brother. The Goa Government Employees Association has urged the Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary and the state chief electoral officer not to allow any extension in government service. Though the order to extend the retirement age for ESI doctors is not specific to Dr Azgaonkar, the fact that it has been issued right at the time when he is retiring is indicative of the fact that there are some strings pulled as he is going to be the immediate beneficiary of the government decision. Though the order is specific to ESI doctors, attempts have apparently been made by the authorities to camouflage it as good for all doctors in the health services as well as the GMC.

Despite the model code of conduct being in force the state government issued the order of extension of retirement age of ESI doctors without the concurrence of the state CEO. The CEO’s office has said they have not received any letter from the state government seeking its approval to increase the retirement age of ESI doctors. The onus is now on the ECI to act on the complaint of violation of code of conduct lodged by political parties as well as GGEA. The election office is already dealing with a complaint of the opposition parties with regard to appointment of two deputy chief ministers, including Azgaonkar while the code of conduct was in force. It has been almost two weeks since that complaint was lodged but no decision from ECI has come. The CEO needs to give his orders on complaints faster as delayed action would only help wrongdoers get away. The ECI must serve a notice to the state

government seeking explanation why its order extending the retirement age of ESI doctors should not be stayed.