Karnataka Housing Minister M H Ambareesh (photo: The Hindu)
The Karnataka state administration has triggered a controversy over its decision to reimburse a hefty medical bill incurred by Housing Minister M H Ambareesh for his treatment in Singapore.
The 61-year-old actor-turned-politician was admitted to Vikram Hospital in Bangalore on February 21 after he complained of breathlessness. He was later shifted to Singapore for treatment of pulmonary edema at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. Ambareesh returned to India only on April 11.
In July the Department of Personnel and Administration (Protocol) issued a notification that the government would reimburse the amount Ambareesh paid in Singapore. The total medical bill came to Rs 1.16 crore ($193,333), including the airfare for Ambareesh, his family and his doctors.
Yet the Medical Attendance Rule of 1958 stipulates that ministers have to get medical treatment in India if the required facilities are available. The maximum reimbursement normally allowed is Rs. 5 lakhs ($8,333), though in special cases ministers may be allowed treatment abroad.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who also heads the Finance Department, told reporters that “it is the discretion of the government.”
Energy Minister D K Shivakumar said the administration had arranged for a special flight to Singapore for Ambareesh. He claimed the actor-politician is “an asset” to the state.
“The government had arranged for a special flight. He was a former Union Minister and an actor. He is an asset to Karnataka,” Shivakumar declared.
Yet Ambareesh is not new to controversy. In June it was revealed that the Housing Minister had allegedly bent rules to get additional real estate sites in Karnataka. An individual is entitled to only one site from an urban development authority in the state, yet according to media reports Ambareesh had allegedly got three large ones.
Sites sold by government-run bodies are priced lower than the market. The New Indian Express quoted RTI activist KR Ravindra as claiming that Ambareesh had submitted "false documents" to secure three sites in Mandya, Mysore and Bangalore.
It is perhaps ironic that the Housing Minister had earlier often played the upright police officer in his films, seen taking on a corrupt system. He even had the nickname of ‘Rebel Star’.
Unfortunately for him, this latest controversy may ensure that Ambareesh is remembered for something quite the opposite.