Inquiry Reveals Large-Scale Corruption at Safdarjung Hospital's Sports Injury Wing

Maintenance tenders at the Sports Injury Centre in Delhi's Centre-run Safdarjung Hospital show several financial irregularities, a committee formed to look into the matter has said in its report.

New Delhi: India’s sports policies have been in the news lately, and not for the right reasons. The death of national-level wrestler Vishal Kumar Verma due to electrocution in Ranchi’s Jaipal Singh stadium has brought home the gross neglect of sporting facilities. The Olympic task force has also pointed out issues in sports administration, leading to disastrous performances at international games. But this neglect is not limited to stadiums and sports authorities; it transcends to health facilities created in the name of helping sportspersons with their injuries. A case of financial corruption at a prominent hospital in New Delhi only goes to prove this.

The case pertains to the Sports Injury Centre (SIC) at Safdarjung Hospital, a central government health facility located in South Delhi opposite the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The report from a recent inquiry by the Union health ministry into “annual maintenance and operations of services” in the SIC, founded in 2010, indicates gross financial irregularities in the tendering amount for annual maintenance. According to the documents procured by the committee that was tasked with preparing the report, a copy of which is with The Wire, in the first year of maintenance, the cost was Rs 1,08,00,000. By the fourth year, it increased to Rs 1,44,00,000. Since then, the amount has remained fixed.

The committee alleged that as years pass, maintenance costs for a always building increase. However, since 2014, the price of maintaining the SIC has been fixed at Rs 1.44 crore. “No justification for this fixation of rate is provided,” notes the report. The report also says that while for the first five years, 47 personnel were deployed for maintenance work, the new tender reduces the number to 35. “This itself is admission of the fact that number of manpower deployed initially was on the higher side,” says the report.

A three-member committee was formed to look into what was happening at the SIC by the directorate general of health services (DHS) of the central Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on April 11, 2017, comprising Dr K.T. Bhowmik, Dr Anita Jain and Dr R.K. Anand, all from Safdarjung Hospital. The DGHS observed that that the personnel requirements at the SIC for both annual maintenance and operation and facility management services are excessively high. The committee constituted to look into this submitted its report in June.

The contract for the first five years (from 2010-2015), which included construction and maintenance, was with M/s Bhayana Builders. According to the report, the most surprising fact was that the same agency which was given the task to arrange for repairs, was also required to supervise the work carried out as well as certify the work done for releasing payments. “This appears to be irregular as in all other institutions where annual maintenance contract is entered into, it is the user who certified the work carried out,” the report says. The committee said that their investigation showed that estimations by the service provider were on the higher side.

An official who has seen the report and is in know of these developments said that the SIC did not cooperate with the inquiry. The SIC administration provided only 10-12% of the documents demanded by the committee. The report also mentions that Dr Deepak Chaudhary, director of the SIC, did not make available the original tender documents for constructing the SIC building and maintaining it for five years. The official, who did not wish to be named, said that had more documents been made available, far more financial and administrative irregularities would have emerged.

In a telephonic response to The Wire, Chaudhary said, “The agreements were signed between the builder and the integrated financial division of the health ministry for the first five years. After that the medical superintendent of Safdarjung Hospital has been overseeing the financial matters. No financial power are vested with me.”

It was also found that recruitment rules were not available and tender documents reflected only essential qualifications. In some cases even that was not followed. For example, the post of human resource manager required applicants to have an MBA. However, the person selected only had a BA, going against the tender requirement. The classification of “humanpower” was not based on an unskilled/semi-skilled/skilled basis. People were hired under the tender documents without any record of how their wages were fixed.

The SIC was inaugurated in September 2010, just before the Commonwealth Games, with an objective to provide integrated surgical, rehabilitative and diagnostic services under one roof for the management of sports injuries and related joint disorders. It is a seven-floor building with two basements within the premises of Safdarjung Hospital. It houses facilities like a sauna bath, swimming pool and state-of-the-art gym. Though the centre is now almost seven years old and came up as a separate unit from the orthopaedic department in the main hospital, it does not have any full-time faculty trained in sports medicine. There is one senior staff member who is specialist on deputation (sports medicine) and one sports psychologist.

The scarcity of sports medicine specialists cannot be cited as a reason for the failure to make trained hires. States with well-developed sports facilities have also cultivated sports medicine specialists. For example, the Baba Farid University of Health Sciences in Faridkot started a two-year diploma course in sports sciences in 1983 and has been training MBBS doctors in treating and managing sports-related injuries since then.

From 2001 to 2010, sporting injury management was an integral part of the Central Institute of Orthopedics (CIO), which is the main orthopaedic department at Safdarjung Hospital, established in 1962. When the SIC was created as separate from the CIO, it was meant to treat only sports-related injuries. But at the moment, it performs the same function as the main department and treats all kinds of patients. Responding to a Rajya Sabha query on the difference between the CIO and SIC, Dr Ramesh Kumar, director of the CIO, replied that it is strongly felt that there should be no duplication of work within the premises of the same hospital.

Comparisons between the CIO and SIC show clear discrepancies. For example, for the CIO and its 170 beds, there are around 100 doctors including faculty, senior residents, junior residents, post graduates and interns. For the SIC with 35 beds, there are close to 60 doctors. For the CIO, all investigation services such as blood tests and X-rays are provided by Safdarjung Hospital. On the other hand, the SIC has been allotted a separate public-private partnership system for such investigations. This is true for the supporting staff as well, where multi-purpose workers under PPPs have been provided to the SIC.

The official who did not wish to be named said that special treatment to the SIC, when it is not performing any special function, has caused discomfort among the rest of the Safdarjung Hospital staff. With corruption cases emerging, it has made matters worse.

Chaudhary said that the SIC has submitted a response to the health ministry, but did not share the details on the response or what is expected next.

Jyotsna Singh is a Delhi-based freelance journalist, focusing on health and pharma.