KALABURAGI: In a world where the poor cannot afford to fall sick - a situation made worse by the pandemic - a doctor in the North Karnataka city of Kalaburagi charges his patients only Rs 20, earning much respect.
Until recently, he charged only Rs 10, and locally, he’s still known as the 'Hatthu rupayee doctor' - literally, the doctors who charges Rs 10.
Seventy-five-year-old Dr Malhar Rao Malle runs a modest clinic in the Jagat locality of Kalaburagi. He completed his MBBS in 1974 and worked for several years under Dr Vithal Rao Palnitkar to gain experience.
Around this time, he decided to change professions, and pursued a degree in law, so that he could emulate his father. Completed his law degree in 1984, he was about start practising as a criminal lawyer, when his father’s advice brought about a change of heart.
"My father, Kishan Rao Malle showed me a verse in the Bhagwad Gita which talked about a doctor's work being a yeoman's service to humankind. He told me a doctor should not become an advocate only to earn money. His advice made me a human being and I decided to serve the needy by charging affordable fees," Dr Malle says.
For a decade up to 1995, Dr Malle didn’t charge patients any consultation fee. "I only collected Rs 3 for penicillin injections. I earned around Rs 1,500-Rs 2,000 a month from that," says the doctor. Back then, syringes made of glass were sterilised before and after each use, and he only had to pay to procure the medicine, an antibiotic used to treat a wide range of infections.
In 1995, during India’s rapid liberalisation, Dr Malle began to charge patients Rs 10, when other doctors charged around Rs 60. The cost of living has shot up in the 25 years since, but the good doctor’s fees have not kept pace.
Today, one kg of jola (jowar) - a staple food in the region - costs Rs 45, and wages under the employment guarantee law are Rs 350 a day. Other doctors have moved on to Rs 100 as consultation charge, but Dr Malle continued with his magic number 10, until October last. Even then, he only went so far as to double the meagre amount.
Four years ago, when his daughter Shubha completed her MBBS degree, she told him to raise his consultation fee. "I told her I had educated her with Rs 10 as fee. I earned more than Rs 1,000 a day, and that was enough," he says.
Honorary service with medical organisations St John Ambulance and Red Cross Society also brought in some money. Even today, Dr Malle is a secretary to St John Ambulance, although he gave up that position at Red Cross.
Through these two organisations, Dr Malle organised 142 blood donation camps and ran 62 health camps in slums and rural areas over the past two decades. He has himself donated blood 54 times. Until a few months ago, he worked a full day. But now, he only treats patients between 10am and 1.30pm. Age has caught up with him, but he still supervises vaccination at an Urban Primary Health Centre.
Dr Malle has received a clutch of awards for his service to society:
Honorary Doctorate in Social Service & Humanity by National Virtual University for Peace and Education (2019)
International Man of the Year award (for social work) at 22nd International Cultural Fest, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2019)
Bharat Jyoti award by India International Friendship Society (2018)
Felicitated by former Karnataka governors -- Govind Narayan, VS Ramadevi, TN Chaturvedi and Hansraj Bhardwaj