Kochi, The Kerala High Court on Wednesday slammed the state government and the police for their inability to protect a 23-year-old doctor who was killed at a taluk hospital in Kottarakkara area of Kollam district by a man she was treating, saying it was a “complete breakdown of the protectional system”. A special bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Kauser Edappagath directed that the CCTV footage of the rooms or places in the taluk hospital where the incident took place be preserved. It made the superintendent of the hospital personally responsible for the task.
The court also directed the First Class Judicial Magistrate of Kottarakkara to visit the hospital and carry out a physical inspection of the crime scene and submit a report by Thursday.
It also held that all of its past orders and the provisions of the Kerala Healthcare Service Persons and Healthcare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2012 shall apply in full force to every medical intern, house surgeon and postgraduate student, and others engaged in the health science education field.
Besides that, the court also ordered the state police chief to be present online on Thursday morning and also submit a report regarding the “ghastly” incident which “snuffed” the life of a bright doctor, Dr Vandana Das.
The bench also said that if there were protocols to ensure the safety of magistrates when producing accused before them, similar ones should be there with regard to presenting such persons before doctors and nurses.
The court said the directions were being issued to ensure that the healthcare sector personnel are sufficiently assured of being able to work “without such deleterious consequences”.
The bench took up the issue of the doctor’s killing on an application moved by a medical institution seeking the same protection for medical interns, house surgeons and postgraduate students as provided under the law to doctors.
The application was moved in a pending petition before the high court on the issue of safety of doctors and other healthcare professionals.
During the over-an-hour-long hearing in the matter, the court slammed the state government, saying that if it could not protect its own doctors, then it should shut down its hospitals.
The court said it had been warning the state government and the police that something like this could happen if nothing was done to prevent attacks on doctors and other healthcare professionals.
“The worst has happened. This is what we were scared of. This is the worst nightmare ever. How can we blame the doctors for going on strike now?
“If you cannot protect doctors, shut down your hospitals. It is a complete failure of the system,” the bench said.
The court said that the policemen who accompanied the man — a teacher — and those present at the aid post in the hospital “could not protect the doctor” and the reasons for the same have to be explored and found out.
It also declined to accept the state government’s claim that all established protocols with regard to presenting persons before doctors were followed in the instant case.
“We must say we are afraid to accept it immediately as we have already said that when the doctor was killed in such a gruesome manner, it prima facie and ipso facto establishes a complete breakdown of the protectional system which was expected to take care of her.
“This is more so because the incident happened in a government hospital and it was the duty of the person in charge, particularly the supervisory personnel, to ensure that the doctors, healthcare professionals, nurses and all others are protected to the extent as are warranted,” the court said.
It further said that during past hearings of the matter, the state government had said it was considering amendment of the Kerala Healthcare Service Persons and Healthcare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2012 for ensuring the safety of doctors.
“However, no tangible results have been brought to our notice. The state government contention is that it is actively considering the amendment and that it will be brought into effect at the earliest, albeit without mentioning any specific time frame,” the court said.
The court was told during the hearing that the assailant — identified as Sandeep — had called the police claiming his family was trying to kill him. As he had a wound on his leg, he was taken to the taluk hospital for treatment.
“Therefore, he was not restrained. Moreover, he was accompanied by his brother-in-law and a local leader of a political party. Also, he was calm when he was examined by doctors in the casualty wing.
“It was while his wound was being dressed that he got violent and attacked his relative first, then the police officers and a home guard present at the place and finally the doctor, who was unable to escape to safety amidst the violence,” the state government’s lawyer told the court.
To this, the court responded that the police personnel were there, and therefore had sufficient time to protect the young doctor as she was the last one to be attacked by Sandeep.
The court also questioned why the police personnel were not with the man throughout, even inside the wound dressing room, when they had admittedly seen that he was exhibiting abnormal behaviour.
It also termed as a “recipe for disaster” the government order which stated that police cannot accompany the accused or those in custody into the wound dressing room.
“It is a recipe for disaster. It may be intended to allow the doctor to find out if there was custodial violence, but what if it is a rape accused? What kind of policing is this? Their fundamental duty is to protect.
“In the instant case, police ought to have restrained him. They are expected to anticipate the unanticipated. That is what they are trained for. Else there is no need for the police,” the bench said.
The court also said that while in other countries police have stun guns and tasers to restrain or subdue criminals, here they were lucky if they have a ‘lathi’ and asked whether any of the officers at the hospital had a gun.
The incident occurred during the early hours of Wednesday morning and Das succumbed to her injuries a few hours later.
The brunt of the attack was borne by the young doctor while the police personnel who accompanied the man were also injured. The doctor was rushed to a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram but could not be saved.