Death of infants at GB Panth Hospital
CM snubs Dir SKIMS for ‘cheap publicity’, puts Chib in the dock
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Leakage of an inquiry report to media---first to a leading English daily in
and later to NDTV---has immediately brought its handler and author, Dr Showkat Zargar, into the eye of a storm in top corridors of power. If well-placed authoritative sources are to be believed, within minutes of the recording of his interview to NDTV, Chief Minister summoned Dir SKIMS, Dr Zargar, to his residence last evening and snubbed him for the latter’s act of seeking “cheap publicity”. Sources said that Chief Minister’s Secretariat was in possession of ‘credible information’ that none other than Dr Zargar had leaked his report to the media. Srinagar
In the wake of hullabaloo over the high mortality rate at GB Panth Hospital in the month of May, Government had ordered a one-man inquiry to look into reason behind nearly 500 deaths and alleged administrative anarchy at
Kashmir’s only hospital for the children. Dr Zargar was assigned to conduct the inquiry and submit his report to the Government within a month. Superintendent of the hospital, Dr Javed Choudhary was removed and replaced by a retired Professor and former head of Social and Preventive Medicine at Government Medical College Srinagar, Dr Munir Masoodi.
Last week, Dr Zargar was reported to have completed the inquiry and submitted his findings to the Government. However, before it could be passed on to Chief Minister and Chief Secretary, excerpts of the report began publishing verbatim in a leading Srinagar-based daily. Within the next couple of days, NDTV too accessed the report and interviewed Chief Minister for his comments. It created an embarrassing position for the Chief Minister who made no bones of his decision of ordering an inquiry as to how the report had reached media before he would study it.
According to NDTV, Dr Zargar had observed that actual rate of neonatal mortality at GB Panth was 35.1% and not 3% as had been projected by the attached Superintendent, Dr Javed Choudhary, supported by Minister incharge Medical Education, R S Chib. Quoting Dr Zargar’s findings, NDTV reported that 2219 infants had been admitted to the hospital from January to May 2012. Of them as many as 312 died. However, files of only 889 admissions were in place and those of 1,330 admissions were “missing”. It also reported that existence of a druggists’ mafia, being hand-in-glove with the previous hospital administration, had been established by Dr Zargar in his report. Besides, MD and MS students had been found ‘forced to pay bribes in cash to the examiners’.
In the very beginning of the NDTV interview, Chief Minister got angry and felt embarrassed over leakage of the report. Asked for his reaction, Omar said: “First, it will not be possible for me to comment about the contents of the report that has not been made public. Clearly, how NDTV has got access to this will be the matter of another inquiry, because such reports, unless they are shared with the government appropriately, for them to be shared with the media before they reach the Chief Minister, I think, is also a matter of concern”.
Sources said that before the interview was on air, Chief Minister summoned and snubbed Dr Zargar while dismissing his action as “cheap publicity”. He told Zargar that people would have automatically appreciated if he had really done some good job to reform things at GB Panth. Dr Zargar did not deny the allegation.
Paradoxically, Dr Zargar himself has now come in the dock with regard to nearly 3,000 deaths at SKIMS in the last 21 months. Last week only, Speaker of Legislative Assembly Mohammad Akbar Lone has taken suo motto notice of reports in the media and constituted a House Committee of 13 MLAs, headed by National Panthers Party’s Balwant Singh Mankotia, to look into reasons of high mortality rate at SKIMS. For over a year of the period in question, Dr Zargar has functioned as Director of SKIMS.
Significantly, in yesterday’s NDTV interview, Chief Minister has made it clear that immediately after receiving a copy of the report on Friday, he would be forwarding it to State Vigilance Organization (SVO) and SAC for thorough investigation and fixing responsibility. While as SVO has the mandate of investigating matters related to government officials, SAC exclusively has the duty of investigating matters involving Ministers, MLAs, MLCs and other public men holding the status of Minister or MoS.
With his announcement, Chief Minister has made it clear that on the Government’s initiative, Accountability Commission would investigate the involvement and criminal culpability of the Minister incharge Medical Education. It is for the first time in the last 31 months of the coalition government that SAC would be investigating charges against a Minister on the initiative of Chief Minister. Like two removed/truncated Ministers (G M Saroori and Pirzada Mohammad Sayeed), Chib too belongs to Congress party. In euphemism, Omar has named “Secretariat” (not the Minister) but reference of the matter to SAC does automatically identify the accused.
“….the situation in GB Pant Hospital had reached almost dire proportions. There is no denying that failure at multiple levels, right from the hospital to the secretariat resulted in the situation reaching where I had, wherein I myself had to step in, and between myself and officers with me, we put in place certain corrective measures wherein I believe situation has been addressed to large extent. But that doesn't remove from the fact it had been allowed to deteriorate to such extent”, Omar said in the interview.
Omar added: “Now once this report reaches me, which obviously will, there are certain steps which will have to be taken... I believe this report needs to form the inquiry both by the Vigilance and the Accountability commission. I believe responsibility needs to be fixed”.
“Of course, they (politicians) should take responsibility. Nobody is above responsibility. Where I have felt that in my own conduct that I have failed, I have stood up and taken responsibility. Therefore, I don't absolve anybody of responsibility of this. I am telling you that responsibility for this stretches from the hospital right to the secretariat. At certain levels it is for individual conscience to take its own call. I can't tell their conscience how to respond. I know how my conscience will respond. As for legally, let me just say, I believe that these are fit cases”, Omar said when asked if the politicians (Minister) should take responsibility of the mess at GB Panth.
Chief Minister further said: “I believe action should be taken on the basis of substantive report. This report points us in the correct direction but it doesn't fix responsibility. It only states facts. Both Vigilance and Accountability commission should inquire about it and fix responsibility. I will assure you action will be taken where responsibility is fixed”.