Punjab health minister under fire for forcing surgeon to lie down on dirty mattress, doctor quits

CM Bhagwant Mann said such “talkhiyan” (bitter situations) do emerge during work and added, “I feel the situation could have been handled in a better manner.”

Punjab health minister under fire for forcing surgeon to lie down on dirty mattress, doctor quits
Doctor forced to lie on dirty mattress by Punjab Minister. (File photo/Twitter@Bahgwant Mann)

Punjab Health Minister Chetan Singh Jouramajra came under fire from several quarters on Saturday after he allegedly forced the vice chancellor of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS) to lie on a dirty mattress during an inspection. After the incident that happened on Friday, VC Raj Bahadur quit from the post and said he had conveyed to the Punjab chief minister the “humiliation” he faced and requested that he be relieved from services as the work environment was not conducive. “I have expressed my anguish to the chief minister and said to him I felt humiliated,” Bahadur told PTI over phone on Saturday.

When Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann was asked about the incident on the sidelines of an event here, he said such “talkhiyan” (bitter situations) do emerge during work and added, “I feel the situation could have been handled in a better manner.” The incident triggered an outrage and opposition parties and various doctors’ bodies, including the Indian Medical Association (IMA), strongly condemned the health minister’s behaviour and demanded his apology.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Bahadur interacted with reporters in Mohali and said Chief Minister Mann had expressed regret over the behaviour of his minister. The doctor also broke down in tears when state Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring came to meet him to express solidarity. Asked if he will take back his resignation, Bahadur replied, “I told the chief minister whatever happened…the chief minister apologised.” “When you work so hard and put in your best efforts, one does feel low when you have to face this kind of behaviour,” the senior doctor said.

Sources said that the chief minister has taken a strong view of the incident and spoken to Jouramajra. Mann is also learnt to have asked Bahadur to continue in the position and meet him next week. Mann said Dr Bahadur is a very good friend of his. “When my father suffered from a spinal cord injury, at that time Dr Raj Bahadur was director of GMCH (Government Medical College and Hospital) in Chandigarh. He is a very good doctor,” he said. The incident happened Friday when Jouramajra was on an inspection to Faridkot’s Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital, which comes under the BFUHS.

A video clip of the incident that circulated on the social media showed Jouramajra place a hand on the veteran surgeon’s shoulder as he pointed towards the “damaged and dirty condition” of the mattress inside the hospital’s skin department. The minister is then seen to be allegedly forcing Dr Bahadur to lie down on the same mattress. Bahadur in the video is seen explaining to the minister that he was not responsible for the facilities, to which the AAP leader retorted, “Everything is in your hands.” Bahadur, 71, who has an experience of over four decades having worked at various reputed health institutions too, told PTI over phone on Saturday that he felt humiliated after the minister’s behaviour with him.

Bahadur, a specialist in spinal surgery and joint replacement, is a former director-principal of Government Medical College and Hospital in Chandigarh and has also been the head of the orthopaedic department at PGIMER, Chandigarh. Congress’ Warring met Bahadur at the Regional Spinal Centre in Mohali to express solidarity and support to him and said he salutes the spirit of the doctor who had dedicated himself to the service of people.

During the meet with Congress leader, Bahadur broke down in tears. Asked why he turned emotional, the doctor told reporters, “I am fine. As you can see, I am attending to my work and have conducted two surgeries today already and am attending to my patients.” The IMA demanded the minister’s unconditional apology and resignation for his “misbehavior” and appealed to Punjab’s chief minister to immediately take necessary action against him. The PCMS Association, a doctors’ body in Punjab, strongly condemned the “unceremonious treatment” meted out to Dr Bahadur. The body expressed its “deep resentment” over the incident and said “public shaming of a senior doctor on systemic issues is strongly condemnable.” The Indian Orthopaedic Association in a statement said the derogatory behaviour of the minister with a man at the highest pedestal of academics “makes us feel that we are being ruled by a Taliban state”.

Opposition parties also hit out at the AAP dispensation over the incident. Former chief minister Amarinder Singh tweeted, “Outrageous & atrocious behaviour of Punjab Health Minister Chetan Jouramajra is unacceptable. Not only should he apologise to Dr Raj Bahadur a distinguished doctor, he should be sacked immediately. This is a test case for @BhagwantMann to restore confidence of medical community.” Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal called out the minister for “reprehensible behaviour.” BJP leader Sunil Jakhar said the treatment meted out to the distinguished doctor is shameful and totally unacceptable.

Hitting back at the opposition parties, the AAP accused them of “shedding crocodile tears to score brownie points before the media over the matter”. Terming the incident “unfortunate”, party spokesperson Malvinder Singh Kang said “the manner in which the opposition is doing cheap politics over the issue is equally unfortunate”.

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