What can the Govt do? Arrest doctors of course

Dr Kafeel Khan of BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur

The Uttar Pradesh Government is playing to the gallery by arresting doctors for the death of children in Gorakhpur. This is headline management, not administration

What is Government ? A group of people who individually can do nothing but collectively can decide that nothing can be done? Or, is it a group of people who can do nothing but decide that everyone except themselves is responsible for their failure?

Take the example of the Uttar Pradesh Government. By now it is well known that despite running a fiefdom in Gorakhpur for over half a century, chief minister Yogi Adityanath, his math and his Hindu Sena could do nothing to improve the situation in the BRD Medical College. Even as chief minister, the Yogi is known to have visited the medical college and hospital on various occasions but failed to get even a whiff of anything that could have gone wrong.

Indeed, the chief minister had visited the medical college and hospital even the day before calamity stuck and as many as 26 children suffering from Encephalitis died, allegedly because the supply of oxygen had dried up for non-payment. Reports in fact revealed that the doctors in the medical college had not been paid their salary for the past four months. Did they raise the issue with the chief minister during his visit to the hospital ? It seems they did not. Such things are not raised in India lest the men in authority take offence.

So, the Government which cannot keep either Gorakhpur or the medical college clean; a government which cannot pay the salary to doctors on time; a government which cannot make payments to the oxygen supplier despite reminders, a government which despite hundreds of agencies and public servants at its command appears to have no clue to what is happening on the ground, can arrest doctors and hold them up as examples.

One holds no brief for doctors and administrators at the BRD Medical College. It is possible that the doctors there engage in private practice and have their own nursing homes—a phenomenon widely prevalent in both UP and Bihar. But if the state government cannot pay them their salary for months together, what are they expected to do ? They would certainly fend for themselves.

Arresting doctors, charging them for culpable homicide, holding them responsible for the death of children go by a name. It is called playing to the gallery. Didn’t the chief minister say that nobody would be spared ? Didn’t the state government grimly declared its resolve that it would mete out exemplary punishment to whoever is found responsible ? Arresting the Principal and his wife, nine other doctors and administrative staff is the political solution the Government has stumbled upon.

But what good will it do ? Who is it going to help ? A large number of officials, policemen and others, and of course the doctors who have been implicated, will spend the next several years attending courts, paying lawyers, producing witnesses before they would finally be given the benefit of doubt and acquitted. By then Yogi Ji would have won a few more elections , people would have forgotten about the incident and the BRD Medical College and Hospital would have turned away hundreds of critical patients lest they die in the hospital and cause another scandal.

But is that the perfect solution that the Indian state can come up with ? Had the UP chief minister been serious, he would have held a public inquiry in Gorakhpur, invited people to attend it, called for solutions and then constitute a committee to fix responsibility. If doctors are found to be responsible, dismiss them from service, report them to the Medical Council and if necessary, ensure that their licence gets cancelled. A fair and transparent inquiry, swift justice and effective deterrents are what people would have welcomed. Not knee-jerk reactions.

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