AIIMS-Delhi’s Resident Doctors’ Association Lands In Yet Another Political Controversy, This Time Over ‘False Media Statement’

by Swati Goel Sharma - Jun 2, 2020 12:56 PM +05:30 IST
AIIMS-Delhi’s Resident Doctors’ Association Lands In Yet Another Political Controversy, This Time Over ‘False Media Statement’The RDA note
Snapshot
  • A doctor and general secretary of the RDA at AIIMS, now expelled from the RDA, is accused of issuing a “false media statement” alleging poor quality of Personal Protective Equipment supplied by the government amid the coronavirus crisis.

A doctor at the state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, has been accused of giving a ‘false media statement’ on the quality of protective gear at the hospital.

The statement was used by several Opposition party leaders to target the government and health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.

Dr Srinivas Rajkumar T has not only been removed from the post of General Secretary at the hospital’s Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA), but has also been served a show-cause notice by the hospital administration.

The RDA of AIIMS has been embroiled in several political controversies in recent times, including one in which its official Twitter handle celebrated the victory of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi Assembly elections and congratulated it for defeating ‘fascist forces’, an oblique reference to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Before we list the various controversies, here are the details of the latest:

On 29 May, News18.com and New Indian Express (NIE) published statements by Srinivas Rajkumar T after news agency PTI reported that 195 healthcare workers at AIIMS had tested positive for Covid-19.

The PTI report was carried by several publications including The Times of India and The Hindu and caused quite a flutter.

Both News18.com and NIE reports carried the exact same quotes by Srinivas.

The quotes said,

It’s not the virus that we are worried about. It’s the apathy of the government and the AIIMS administration that worries us. If this continues, we will be short of HCWs to treat patients. Since March, we have been writing and fighting for the safety of hostel premises, poor sanitation, lack of proper quarantine protocol and need for adequate testing.
The N95 masks do not meet even MOHFW safety standards, forget international standards. Our relentless pursuit of resident welfare has been met with threats from administration and attempts to jeopardise the career of RDA executives by the administration.

While the News18 report was headlined ‘Not Worried About Virus But Govt Apathy': Lack of PPEs Makes AIIMS Healthcare Staff Target for Covid’, the NIE report was headlined ‘Not worried about coronavirus; apathy of government, admin is what concerns us: AIIMS healthcare workers’.

The same day, several doctors at AIIMS and other state-run hospitals in Delhi took to social media to call out Srinivas, accusing him of making ‘baseless allegations’.

“PPE kits cost around 1000 and should be used judiciously…In Covid suspected areas also we are using PPE kits..N95 MASK are also provided to all health workers (sic),” an AIIMS doctor, Dr Prashant Sharma, wrote on Twitter.

Another doctor, Dr Swati Tomar, also refuted the allegations made in the reports.

As the row escalated and more doctors joined in, the RDA of AIIMS released a notice in the evening.

Signed by RDA president Dr Adarsh Pratap Singh, the notice said that two-thirds majority of the executives had taken the decision to expel Srinivas from the post.

Notice of expulsion of Dr Srinivas issued by RDA president Adarsh Pratap Singh (click to enlarge) 
Notice of expulsion of Dr Srinivas issued by RDA president Adarsh Pratap Singh (click to enlarge) 

“In view of an alleged incident that has come to the notice of RDA AIIMS Executive body, a false media statement has been released by Dr Srinivas Rajkumar T, General Secretary, RDA AIIMS. RDA condemns such action along with his repeated bypassing of the executive body,” it said.

Even as the decision was applauded by several members of the Delhi medical fraternity on social media, AIIMS doctor Prashant Sharma took to Twitter to call it a ‘fall out’ of a ‘Left wing lobby’ at AIIMS.

Sharma posted a January picture of Adarsh Pratap Singh and Srinivas Rajkumar with Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, and wrote that the RDA president was ‘forced’ to pass the no-confidence motion against Srinivas in order to save himself from a controversy as the latter’s statements had kicked up a political row.

Later, the government too refuted Srinivas.

On 30 May, the official ‘fact-checking’ Twitter handle of the Press Information Bureau (PIB), which is the government nodal agency for issuing releases to the public, called both News18 and NIE reports ‘factually incorrect’ and ‘baseless’.

The handle refuted Srinivas’ claims that the masks and PPEs didn’t meet the specified standard; it said that the masks and PPEs indeed met the standards specified by the health ministry and have been evaluated and verified by ‘AIIMS committee’.

News18 went on to change its report. The revised headline says, ‘AIIMS Dismisses Allegations Around Quality of PPE Kits and Masks, Says Specified Standards Being Met’.

The report now quotes ‘AIIMS administration’ as saying, “More than 95 per cent of the staff who tested positive for Covid-19 did not have any evidence of transmission from the patient care activities based on detailed evaluation by the Contact Tracing Team. Of these, a large majority came from containment zones. Training has been imparted to all cadres of staff in infection control practices in context of COVID-19.”

NIE, however, has not made any changes to its report, whose author also publicly refuted PIB’s ‘fact-check’.

Srinivas, meanwhile, told the media he stood by his statement.

On 31 May, a website quoted Srinivas Rajkumar as saying, “It is testing times for everybody and I stand by my statement. People who have sent this letter should resign and are working against the benefit of the resident doctors. I have not been contacted by the administration in this regard, but the president went ahead and took this decision.”

He also called his removal from the RDA post ‘an illegal step’, saying that ‘to take such a step there needs to be a GBM, which includes all or 2/3rd of the resident doctors’.

Troubles, however, have only mounted for Srinivas since.

On 1 June, the registrar of AIIMS sent Srinivas a show-cause notice with the subject ‘tweet claiming that statistics related to N95 masks issued by the MoHFW and ICMR are a lie’.

The tweet for which Srinivas has got a show-cause notice
The tweet for which Srinivas has got a show-cause notice

The notice said that, “Dr Srinivas has provided no details to support his claim” and “has chosen to voice his claim on a public platform and sought media visibility to malign institutions”.

“At a time when the nation is fighting against a pandemic, unsubstantiated statements such as these can damage the morale of the frontline healthcare workers….” the notice said.

Srinivas has been asked to reply by 3 June.

In further embarrassment for the doctor, the same day, that is on 1 June, a Twitter handle posted minutes of the meeting of AIIMS RDA on 29 May in which the decision to expel Srinivas had been taken (Swarajya has verified the authenticity of the documents with an AIIMS doctor).

The document contains statements made by several other RDA executives against Srinivas, accusing him of ‘repeatedly’ making ‘baseless’ statements, and objecting to his personal and professional conduct.

The statement by RDA president says Srinivas makes ‘repeated offences’ and his statement to the media was given ‘without adequate proof’.

As this drama continues to unfold at one of the country’s top medical institutes, it is pertinent to mention that of late, the RDA of AIIMS-Delhi has been repeatedly caught in controversies.

In February, the official Twitter handle of the RDA was heavily criticised on social media, by the medical fraternity and later by the AIIMS administration for an openly politically partisan tweet that referred to the BJP as ‘fascist forces’.

“Congrats to the people of Delhi for showing the whole country how democratic power can prevail over fascist forces & how people of a nation can decide on the kind of leadership they deserve! Congrats to @arvindkejriwal & @AamAadmiParty for such a great victory ! #DelhiElections,” the handle, @AIIMSRDA, wrote on 12 February, shortly after AAP’s thumping victory in the Assembly polls.

In the polls, the AAP had won 62 out of 70 constituencies, while the BJP had won eight seats.

Such was the furore created by the tweet that the AIIMS administration issued a show-cause notice to Adarsh Pratap Singh, saying, “The content of this tweet was political in nature on the Delhi State Assembly Elections. It has also been brought to notice that this tweet was posted by the President of the RDA.”

In a sign that things may have become too political for comfort, the administration released a statement for the media in April, saying that one Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti, who had made allegations against AIIMS for not treating its healthcare workers well, was not associated with the institute at all.

“It has come to our notice that there are some outsiders who are trying to tarnish the image of AIIMS...It is informed that Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti is not associated with the AIIMS, New Delhi, in any capacity. His tweet is intended to damage the image of AIIMS,” the statement said.

It was signed by senior doctor Dr Aarti Vij, chairperson of the institute’s media division.

Bhatti is a former president of AIIMS-Delhi RDA.

However, he is currently a member of the Congress Party and is not a practising doctor at either AIIMS or any other government institute.

As Swarajya earlier reported, he has falsely endorsed himself as an official spokesperson of AIIMS in the media.

In January, several students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) associated with the RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had alleged ‘discrimination’ on the basis of ideology by doctors at AIIMS Delhi.

It was after two student groups indulged in violence and the injured were taken to AIIMS.

At that time, Bhatti had told a portal that the injuries sustained by ABVP students were ‘superficial’.

Bhatti is also a doctor of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad.

Recently, Bhatti posted pictures of himself and Azad donating blood at AIIMS.

This created another controversy, as several doctors took to social media to say that Azad, as per his own statement to the court, is suffering from a blood disorder called Polycythemia and is thus unfit to donate blood.

Azad accepting certificate of appreciation for blood donation at AIIMS
Azad accepting certificate of appreciation for blood donation at AIIMS

Bhatti went on to delete the pictures of the blood donation from his social media accounts, but the issue is far from being put to rest.

A Dalit activist recently wrote to the AIIMS administration and the health ministry requesting a probe into the incident, saying that “there appears to be a major lapse on the part of AIIMS-Delhi” that “can jeopardise the health and safety of many patients”.

It is interesting to note that amid this controversy, RDA president Singh took to Twitter to say that the blood donated by Azad had been ‘discarded’, but later deleted his tweet.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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