IIT student dies, chief quits after backlash

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By OUR BUREAU in Kharagpur
  • Published 22.03.09

Kharagpur, March 22: A 21-year-old student of IIT Kharagpur died after he fell off a rickshaw today, prompting charges of medical negligence at the ill-equipped campus hospital and triggering a students’ protest that forced the director of the institute to resign.

Rohit Kumar, a third-year electrical engineering student, was playing basketball outside his Lala Lajpat Rai hostel in the morning.

His death a few hours later stunned the campus, and shock soon snowballed into outrage. A violent protest engulfed the residence of director Damodar Acharya who resigned this evening, and the medical officer of the hospital was suspended. The students also forced the dean, D.K. Tripathy, to promise to resign.

“Rohit suddenly felt unwell and complained of a headache. He took a cycle-rickshaw to BC Roy Technology Hospital, located about 500 meters away. He was examined by a doctor, given painkillers and sent back within 15 minutes of entering the hospital,” said an IIT student.

On his way back to the hostel in a rickshaw, Rohit fell off near the hostel gate and injured his head. Friends rushed the unconscious Rohit back to the hospital. Some IIT officials said that Rohit had a history of epilepsy, but the condition could not be confirmed.

“The doctors kept him under observation for nearly three hours but there was no effort to treat him,” a student said. “After doing nothing for three hours, the doctors said they were helpless and told us to take Rohit to a hospital in Calcutta,” he added.

IIT officials said the extent of the injury could not be established in the hospital, which students equated to little more than a dispensary .

“The boy had fallen and injured himself before he was taken to the hospital…. In the hospital, we were unable to find out what damage had happened, so we referred him to a speciality hospital and he died on the way,” said D. Gunasekaran, the registrar of the institute.

“Now we are sitting in a meeting to address how best we can improve the hospital infrastructure so that there isn’t a repeat of what happened today,” he added.

The board of governors has called an emergency meeting, and around 6,000 students had gathered for an open forum scheduled for later tonight. They were demanding an external inquiry.

The meeting began at 11pm. Six faculty members were pleading with the students to calm down.

Rohit’s classmates P.R.K. Singh and Vidya Bhushan had started with him for Calcutta in an ambulance. But after travelling for about 25km, Rohit started vomiting blood. His friends decided to take him to Midnapore Medical College and Hospital since it was the nearest one.

Rohit was declared dead on arrival at the Midnapore hospital around 1.45pm, and his friends took the body back to BC Roy Technology Hospital since his preliminary treatment started there.

When Singh and Bhushan returned with Rohit’s body, enraged students from the hostels went to meet the director. “After keeping us waiting for half an hour, he met us and said an inquiry committee would be formed,” said a student.

The students blamed the director for the death, alleging that even after several complaints to the authorities, the hospital had not been upgraded.

The IIT Kharagpur community — around 7,000 students, 700 faculty members and 1,500 non-teaching staff — are dependent on BC Roy Technology Hospital that has 25 beds and seven doctors. Three months ago, the students had sent a proposal to the director to upgrade the hospital, but they said no action was taken.

“At a meeting held three days ago, it was unanimously agreed that it was merely a health care centre. We cannot handle serious cases and emergencies. We had appea-led to the authorities to upgrade facilities,” said D.D. Karmakar, a member of the hospital management committee.

Around 3.30pm today, students came out of the hostel and around 2,000 marched towards the bungalow of the director. A huge police contingent rushed to campus.

“The authorities even snapped Internet connection to prevent us from getting united,” said a student, standing outside the director’s bungalow.

A part of the director’s bungalow was ransacked and a car smashed by the students between 4pm and 6pm.

As the students kept gathering outside the house, Acharya came out. “I have resigned from my post, taking moral responsibility,” he said.

“Deputy director Madhusudan Chakraborty will take my place for the moment. The doctor who was on duty at the hospital when Rohit was taken there, N.K. Som, has been suspended,” he added.

Officials at BC Roy Technology Hospital denied the allegation of negligence. According to hospital staff, when Rohit arrived the first time, he was walking unsteadily. His blood pressure was checked and found to be normal. As he was complaining of a headache, he was given painkillers and released.

They added that when Rohit was brought in again, he was put on a saline and glucose drip, but his pupils had started to dilate and his pulse rate was dropping.