The Apollo Chitra Katha
Maxwell Pereira

maxpk@vsnl.com

Who is to be blamed for the alleged cover-up by the capital’s prestigious Apollo Hospital in the Rahul Mahajan case? Every one wants to know. Thanks to the intense interest the case generated in the media, the flip-flops indulged in by the Apollo management – whose public face was its medical director Dr Anupam Sibal – were there for all to see, driving a huge hole in the credibility quotient of the hospital.

When Rahul was moved to Apollo and TV channels started breaking this news on Friday June 2, the first face on camera speaking on Rahul’s condition was not of a BJP luminary, nor a family face. The face on the telly captured briefing the press while emerging after visiting Rahul was of a Samajwadi Party big man. Did this surprise anyone? I believe at that stage no one gave it a passing thought.

But with the lead story on Thursday June 8 about Delhi Police lodging a criminal case against the Hospital for giving false information in the Amar Chitra Katha of the Mahajan saga, speculation is rife about involvement in higher quarters and of an ‘Amar’ connection! By the way, in criminal matters, action (registering a case/ initiating the process for launching prosecution) is specifically against known or unknown individuals, and not against corporate entities.

Fanned by the common knowledge of the worthy’s closeness to Pramod Mahajan irrespective of the hostile public posture between the two parties, the story that’s done the rounds is that Gopinath Munde rang up Rajnath Singh to help Rahul who was in Apollo, and Rajnath Singh in turn called up Amar Singh, to bail out the young victim of drug abuse through Apollo supremo Dr Pratap Reddy – who is a member of the controversial UP Development Council. According to The Asian Age, the highly connected and high-flying owner of the Apollo chain was also close to the Mahajans – and consequently ‘midst the ongoing investigations the mobile records of all these high and mighty are under check. Quoting as result from such check of ‘mobile’ records, some other national dailies have in their own expose introduced and reported on the role of a Raji Chandru variously mentioned as hospital administrator/ secretary to the CEO etc – as the conduit for intervention between Harish Sharma and CEO Reddy, and for settlement of charges too (which insiders in the know say merely means adjustment by hospital management with no liability for the patient). The rest is history.

The extraordinary and not-quite-so-regular step of Delhi Police to launch criminal proceedings against the private hospital has evoked debate on the issue of hospital ethics, and whether private hospitals succumb to partisan pressures to doctor reports and material facts to aid, abet and assist efforts of those with clout and money power to evade due process of law. There is also the counter-view, whether the police are off on a tangent trying to hit a flea with a hammer – instead of concentrating on the main issue, the narco-criminal case in hand!

At the outset it may be mentioned that the doctor-police relationship is sensitive, one that often tends to be fragile – the police more dependent on doctors for forensic and medico legal support, than perhaps doctors’ need of the police. So it is deemed prudent for the police not to antagonize the doctor community.

And one has to concede in so far as adhering to the Hippocratic’ oath and saving life is concerned, the doctors’ opinion is paramount and all police questioning, however urgent or crucial, can and should wait. Was this over-riding rule genuinely applicable in the present case, or was this used as an excuse to subvert the due process of law, is the moot question here.

Police action in this case was in response to a court directive to investigate into reports of evidence tampering by the private hospital – in the course of which, investigators pieced together facts leading to the conclusion that the Apollo management suppressed and fudged facts. Despite the storm this step has kicked up, there is also the other view that by using a non-cognizable mild section of 182 IPC instead of the more stringent and apt section 177, the police are soft footing against the doctors who are likely to now emerge unscathed.

It was obvious the police were quite upset over the Apollo doctors’ conduct to confuse and confound the investigation process. Apollo’s glaringly evident stance to shield Rahul and disclosing out of turn to the media information otherwise contrary to facts and conclusions arrived at through ongoing investigations, was seen as against established norms and practises. According to the police the medico legal report confirms that the hospital went out of its way to shield a patient in its care who was the subject of investigation in the matter of a connected unnatural death – purely to keep him from the clutches of law.

That hospital papers now in police custody clearly indicate an original game plan to keep under wraps Rahul’s involvement – which went bust with Bibek Moitra’s demise, warranting an exercise to over-write and tamper with the records. The papers also reveal that Rahul’s condition had improved considerably soon after admission, and he was conscious and stable even before being moved to the intensive care unit. Which meant, neither the ICU nor the ventilator support was really necessary – otherwise than for ulterior motives of buying time and preparing him for the inevitable police questioning. The police were kept at bay for a full three days, with doctors claiming that Rahul’s condition was still critical.

Adding fuel to fire perhaps was also the admission of Mahajan Sr’s aide Harish Sharma to the Apollo – just when the police summoned him for routine questioning. Whether this was only to delay his own immediate questioning, or was to facilitate clandestine communication with Rahul in the ICU would also need to be thoroughly probed, the police say.

1000 words
14.06.2006: Copyright © Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com
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