Give these doctors a reason to stay

Doctors-in-the-making live in inhuman conditions at the VMMC hostel at the Safdarjang Hospital

sonal

Sonal Matharu | June 9, 2010


VMMC students protesting the crumbling infrastructure at the hostel and non-functional one at the new college building
VMMC students protesting the crumbling infrastructure at the hostel and non-functional one at the new college building

Every year, more than 100 students travel from different parts of the country to join the “Safdarjang family”, enrolling in the hospital’s academic wing, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College (VMMC).

Broken doors and windows, dampen walls and leaking taps welcome them in the hostel - popular as 'barracks' - outside the hospital campus. They get used to living with dust and dry leaves under their feet and chipped tin roofs over the heads till the new batch joins in and they hand over the rooms to them in the same condition, sometimes even worse.

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The boys' hostel at VMMC is popular as Barracks amongst the students - it was built over 50 years ago for Bristish soldiers stationed in India

Before Utkarsh Mishra, first-year MBBS student at VMMC from Jharkhand, could open the door to his room in the barracks, few missing bricks around the window next to it gave a clear view of the insides of the room. Two single beds are shared by three students. If the ceiling fan right over their bed falls one of these days, bringing the roof down with it, it wouldn’t surprise them much.

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A dingy room with two single beds shared by three

Last month, one portion of the ceiling fell in one of the hostel rooms injuring a student, said the agitating future doctors who finally decided to tie a black strip on the sleeve of their white coats and sit outside the Out-Patient Department (OPD) of the hospital on an empty-stomach.

If this is what brings the officials holding authority in the hospital out of their comfortable rooms, then so be it.

“For the past two days we are protesting outside the OPD but the director has not come here even once. We will continue with the strike till the time our demands are met,” said Anubhav Sanghvan, vice-president, Students’ Welfare Association (SWA), VMMC, on Wednesday, the third day of their agitation. “The medical superintendent says he sympathises with us but doesn’t have the authority to take action. We do not want his sympathy.”

The hostel, the students say, is their first priority.

The new hostel building, which is built adjacent to the barracks, is ready. But the rooms stay locked from outside, unoccupied. This 228-bedded, Rs 33 crore hostel complex is awaiting a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC).

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Empty corridors of the Rs 33 cr - new hostel. The hostel remains unoccupied even after 11 months of being built, because of a pending NDMC clearance

The four-storey marble-floored buildings with well-ventilated rooms with balconies are lying unutilised for over 11 months now, while students fight snakes and dengue and malaria in the old hostels.

“No one ever comes to clean the room at the barracks,” said Mishra.

“For maintenance, the building is painted from outside only ,” said Gaurav Chawla, a third-year student. “The conditions are so pathetic here that some students take personal accommodation nearby.”

The unlivable barracks, which are allotted to the boys, were built for the British soldiers when they stayed in India during the war. These buildings are more than 50 years old. There are ten rooms in a row and an equal number on the opposite side of the building. Overflowing garbage from the bin is scattered all over the ground outside the rooms.

For bathrooms, they have a dingy, tiled room, which are actually white in colour, but can be mistaken for a shade of grey as they are laced with silt and covered with cobwebs. Old T-shirts are hung on window panes whose tinted glass broke long ago and was never repaired.

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The pipes have rusted in the dingy hostel bathroom.

“Doctors live here in such inhuman conditions. I am sure even Tihar jail inmates have better living conditions than us,” said a postgraduate student who did not wish to be named.

Chawla explains how the students living in barracks have to go all the way to the hospital mess to get food at night, that too walking down an unlit path. “These street lights were put recently,” he said pointing towards one.

The new hostel, which is an absolute contrast, has a temple in its compound, which is the reason why NDMC is not giving the NOC, said Safdarjang hospital’s director Dr. Jagdish Prasad. But the students say that the officials are saving these rooms for the Commonwealth Games delegates. (When contacted, the Medical Superintendent (MS) Dr. NK Mohanty, refused to comment on the same.)

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Hospital authorities say they are caught between NDMC which wants this temple in the hostel compound declared illegal and the temple priest who says they have  SC order against taking the temple down

The temple is as old as the barracks. Ram Shankar Upadhyaya, the pandit who runs it, has been living there with his family of eight and the hostel buildings are constructed around the temple. According to the hospital authorities, the NDMC wants them to declare the temple illegal.

On the other hand, Veena Upadhyaya, Ram Shankar’s daughter-in-law said that they have orders from the Supreme Court to reside here and they will not shift to any other place.

After repeated agitation by the students and doctors, the SWA and the Resident Doctors’ Welfare Association (RDWA) had a meeting with the director, principal and the MS late Wednesday evening where the doctors gave a draft of all their demands. That same evening the officials gave a written assurance that all the problems mentioned in the draft will be solved within three weeks.

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Not just the walls, even the ceiling is crumbling at places

“The director has said that the students will be shifted to the new hostel and the electricity will be provided through a generator till the NDMC gives the NOC,” said Karan Vats, President, SWA, VMMC, after the meeting.

Meanwhile, the students say that their motive is not to harass the patients but to be heard. From Thursday, they decided to attend to their duties assigned in the hospital but said they will boycott the lectures till the time they see that their demands are adhered to.

All photos by Sonal Matharu

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