When a rehab centre turned into a house of horrors

When a rehab centre turned into a house of horrors

Worse, more deaths of men and women continued in the next week. The centre that was expected to rehabilitate people who lived on alms had turned into a hellhole. Over 2,500 men and women were crammed into the Colony that could actually accommodate not more than 750 people.

As many as 286 people had died over a period of eight months at the Colony.
Housed in unbelievably filthy conditions, the inmates were fed worm-infested food and contaminated water, and clothed in rags soaked in urine, excreta and their own vomit. So grave was the situation, that mediapersons were refused access to some of the buildings. And the reasons were fairly obvious.

An embarrassed State government first got rid of then Social Welfare minister D Sudhakar and a couple of top officials responsible for managing the centre. The government also appointed the National Rural Health Mission Project director S Selvakumar to probe the deaths. But they simply did not stop.

Hundreds were admitted to Isolation Hospital and Nimhans. They were weak because of months of deliberate neglect. Many of them were mentally ill, but no treatment of any sort was provided to them.

Ironically, despite twelve deaths and more, the State kept saying they were anything but natural and refused to authorise post-mortems. It was only after a huge outcry that the State consented to do so.

Incidentally, the forensic science laboratories have not released the details of the post-mortem yet. However, the laboratory analysis of food and water have proved positive for strong traces of cholera bacteria and E coli.

Wilful negligence
So, how did a rehabilitation centre turn into a house of horrors? Needless to say, by sheer wilful negligence. The officials at the centre led by chairman of the Central Relief Committee Manje Gowda were so busy “appropriating money” that they did not bother about the welfare of hapless inmates.

Selvakumar’s inquiry report pointed out that Manje Gowda was responsible for conducting Beggary Eradication Month programme in February-March where beggars were rounded up and brought to the centre, even though it had no capacity to handle them. A sum of Rs 19.31 lakh was also sanctioned but according to an audit report, no money was ever spent on the inmates. Most of it was spent on publicity.

Money was also collected in excess daily by giving fake indents, inflated figures for groceries and other supplies. Running this ring was the chairman and his trusted superintendent Lakshminarasimhaiah and chief warden Hanumantharayappa. Incidentally, people who were not beggars were also rounded up and brought there by unauthorised people, flouting all rules.

There was also the interesting case of Dr Harimurthy of Karuna Trust who headed the Primary Health Centre (PHC) at the Colony. The doctor was found to have routinely signed death certificates of inmates attributing their death to natural causes and never subjected a single inmate to an elementary health check-up.

 No sign of treatment of any inmate was found at the PHC where beds were absent, medicines had expired dates and no medical records were maintained.

During the inquiry, it was found that the doctor, who was 50 years old, claimed to have obtained a medical degree at 48. However, no documentation was furnished to prove the fact. The inquiry further revealed large-scale discrepancies in the medical registry of deaths maintained at the PHC. There were no cremation records for nearly 50 persons registered as dead. Even the nurse and pharmacist had signed death certificates.

When the government finally woke up, it suspended four officials and filed criminal charges, but failed to take any action against the main accused Manje Gowda, except removing him from the post. The doctor was brazenly allowed to stay at the rehabilitation centre for more than two months, until Karuna Trust got rid of him. As of today, he has not been held liable for any wrongdoing and the government has ordered a CoD probe.

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