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A Tribune Exclusive
3 ex-civil surgeons indicted
Detection of graves of female foetuses in Patran
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 19
Commissioner of Patiala Division Anjali Bhawra has indicted three former civil surgeons of the district for their failure to check the illegal practice of the medical termination of pregnancies (MTPs) at Patran where two graves of female foetuses were found in August last year.

The detection of a large number of female foetuses from two mini-wells had shaken the conscience of the nation and bodies of the National Commission for Women. The previous Amarinder Singh government had appointed Bhawra to conduct the inquiry.

Sources in the Health Department said Bhawra had submitted her report to the previous government, but action on it could not be taken as Assembly elections were on.

“Now it will be decided by the Badal government as to what action is to be taken on the report”, said a senior officer.

Following the detection of female foetuses, an FIR was registered against Pritam Singh and his wife Amarjit Kaur, who were running Sahib Hospital where, it was alleged, abortions were conducted illegally, thereby violating the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, amended up to 2003. In fact, a mid-wife working at the hospital had become a whistle blower in this case. She had leaked information that led to the detection the female foetuses.

Pritam Singh, the owner of the hospital, was earlier working as a medical practitioner at Sardulgarh in Mansa district from 1993 to 1996 and thereafter he shifted to a Patran nursing home known as Patiala Nursing Home. Later on, he constructed a new building and started running Sahib Hospital, Patran, in 2002, says the inquiry report.

In the report, Bhawra has stated that she had summoned as many as six civil surgeons, who had remained posted at Patiala since September 4, 2001,till the date of the detection of the graves. For the failure to check the illegal termination of pregnancies, however, Bhawra has mainly held responsible three civil surgeons- Dr Inderjit Kaur Walia, who was posted at Patiala from September 4, 2001, to October 22, 2003, Dr (Capt) Hardev Singh from October,2003, to January 31,2005, and Dr V.S. Mohi from August 12,2005,till the detection of the female foetuses. Besides the three civil surgeons, Bhawra has indicted certain senior medical officers (SMOs) and medical officers, who remained posted in Patran and Shutrana areas from 2002 to 2006.

While Dr Mohi is still in service, Dr Walia and Dr Hardev Singh have since retired, it is learnt. In the case of three other CMOs, Bhawra has stated that their duration of posting in that district was just for a month or a little more.

"It can be seen from the duration of their postings in the area that they had not got sufficient time to get involved in the supervisory activities in the district", says Bhawra in her report.

Dr Walia, Dr Hardev Singh and Dr Mohi took an almost identical defence while deposing before the commissioner. Their main defence was that no complaint of illegal activities was brought to their notice during their respective tenures as civil surgeons with regard to the activities of Sahib Hospital.

However, Bhawra, while indicting these doctors, has stated:" The plea taken by the civil surgeons that no complaint was brought to their notice also indicates a reactive approach to handle the problem rather than a proactive approach to curb the activities. The imposing structure of the above hospital in the small town like Patran, in my opinion, cannot be ignored if an interest is shown to know about the status and activities going on there. I am also not convinced with the arguments that no complaint was brought to their notice. In general, I would like to point out that lack of interest and ignorance of Acts and urgency with which the supervisor could act upon to curb such activities was also missing".

In her conclusive remarks in the report, Bhawra says:" I am of the view that merely saying that no such activity has come to the notice of the supervisory officers, I do not think, he or she can be absolved of the responsibility for checking the illegal activities in the district as an officer in charge".



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