Patna: What can one get with a Rs5 coin? Almost nothing, many would say.
But for a general physician from India’s Jharkhand state, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, this amount was enough to receive the Padma Shri — the nation’s fourth highest civilian award.
Mukherjee, 84, who runs a clinic in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, has been charging every patient only Rs5 (25 fils at today’s rate) as consultation fee, for the past 53 years, and this has earned him laurels from many quarters.
It was his commitment to poor and underprivileged communities which ultimately won him the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in the Republic of India — after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan.
“I congratulate Dr Mukherjee on him being conferred the Padma Shri for his selfless service in the field of health and dedicating his life to the poor people of the state,” said Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das.
Mukherjee fixed his consultation fee at Rs5, soon after he joined the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences at Ranchi in 1966, and continues charging the same amount even today.
As a result, there is always a virtual scramble among patients to visit his clinic.
Often, he even treats the patients free of cost after taking into consideration their financial plight and even distributes free medicine samples among some patients.
There was no change in his consultancy fee even after he retired from service in 1993.
These days, he dedicates three hours of his time every day to treat the patients despite his failing health.
Many visitors are from well-to-do families who rely on the experience of Dr Mukherjee and find him better than many doctors.
“I am feeling happy with the award but my purpose will be successful only when other doctors follow me and serve the poor,” Mukherjee told the media on Sunday.
He said doctors must try to protect the trust society has reposed in them.
He is unhappy over the way some in the medical fraternity have commercialised their calling to charge patients hefty fees.
“It’s horrible. How much money do they need to buy a car or a good house?” he asked, suggesting his colleagues should treat at least one patient free of cost every day, if not more.
According to him, a society cannot be treated as ‘developed’ until health services reach the last man.
“Jharkhand’s condition is very pathetic in this regard. There are neither good hospitals nor adequate facilities available here,” he says.