The SSKM hostel where Saptarshi Das, who died apparently of drug overdose, stayed. (Bishwarup Dutta)
The management of SSKM Hospital allegedly didn’t bother checking on the hostel where an MBBS student died of a suspected drug overdose on Saturday despite being tipped about “noisy parties” there about a week ago.
“We had verbally complained to the dean around seven days back about a section of students drinking alcohol in their hostel room and making lots of noise. We told him that the girls in the same building were feeling disturbed. But no action was taken,” Kabirul Hoque, the unit secretary of a students’ union at SSKM, told Metro.
Sources at SSKM said on Sunday that traces of unidentified drugs were found in the stomach of Saptarshi Das, the intern who died within hours of being found gasping for breath in room number 426 of the hostel the previous morning. Fellow intern Shahbaaz Siddiqui, who was found unconscious in the same room, was taken off ventilator support on Sunday but remained in a critical condition.
Shahbaaz’s father arrived in Calcutta from Kuwait, where he works with an oil company, on Sunday morning. “He is responding to treatment. He opened his eyes today and saw his parents,” a relative said.
Neither of the boys was officially an inmate of the room where they were found. “Forensic tests will tell us what drugs the interns had taken,” an official said.
Police sources blamed the SSKM authorities for the incident. “We had inspected the hostel along with a group of SSKM officials, including the hostel superintendent and the dean of students, following a clash between two groups of students about a year back. Stacks of empty liquor bottles were found in some of the rooms,” an officer recalled.
That was the last time a police team had entered the hostel before Saturday. “We can conduct inspections only if the hospital authorities call us,” the officer said.
Pradip Mitra, director of the Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research under which SSKM Hospital functions, said he had been “told” about Saptarshi and Shahbaaz abusing drugs after the incident occurred. The substance found in Saptarshi’s stomach has been sent for forensic tests.
Sources said it was common knowledge that students of medical colleges enjoyed easy access to prescription drugs, mostly through their proximity to representatives of pharmaceutical companies.
The police found 12 syringes in room number 426, two of them containing a milky liquid that has yet to be identified. The cops also recovered a powdery substance wrapped in pieces of paper that they suspect is brown sugar.
A glass containing a pinch of a black powdery substance, half-burnt silver foil used as cigarette wrapping and a burnt spoon were found too.
The students’ hostel at the western end of the SSKM campus, facing DL Khan Road, is a seven-storey building built about a decade ago. The first two floors are for girl students. Three guards are posted at the girls’ hostel while the stairs leading to the boys’ section is unguarded.
The only action the health department took on Sunday was to remove the hostel superintendent, Durbaraj Rakshit. “I have instructed the hospital administration to remove the hostel superintendent,” said Sushanta Banerjee, the director of medical education.
The order would be handed to him on Monday, an official said.
Rakshit is a junior doctor in his first year of post-graduate studies. His colleagues said it was impossible for him to devote enough time to keeping vigil on the hostel inmates after completing his daily medical assignments. “There are several assistant medical superintendents and other senior officials who don’t bother coming to our hostel for a check,” an MBBS student said.
Senior SSKM officials are to hold a meeting on Monday in the presence of transport minister Madan Mitra, who is the co-chairman of the Rogi Kalyan Samity of the hospital, to select the next hostel superintendent and find ways to crack down on drug abuse.