As a large number of parents and students thronged the Villupuram hospital, demanding action against the management of a private medical college where three girl students committed suicide on Saturday, the contents of their suicide note continued to evoke shock and anger.
On Sunday, District Collector M Lakshmy sealed the college and hostel, where the students stayed, following protests against the owners, Vasuki Subramanian and her husband S Subramanian, the principal.
With police still hunting for the duo who ran the SVS Yoga Medical College at Kallakurichi near Villupuram, about 170 km from Chennai, where the bodies of the three students were recovered from a well, The Indian Express visited the institution to piece together disturbing details. Of a medical college without classrooms, laboratories and teachers for around 100 students, who were charged at least Rs 5 lakh each in fees alone — and with not a single placement conducted on campus since the beginning in 2008.
The story starts at the entrance to the college, about 10 km from Kallakurichi, where the compound starts without walls and with banners erected on wooden stands acting as signboards.
At the entrance is the students’ mess, a single-storey structure with 24 cabins, all dust-covered. Right next to the building is a kitchen, under a thatched roof, where senior students said they prepared food for juniors as there were no cooks employed.
T Udayashree, a classmate of three who committed suicide, said they were given “the most substandard food items” to cook. “They (the management) used to ask us to make the food as spicy as possible to reduce intake. We were also made to clean toilets, the campus and conduct repair work as it was part of ‘Karma Yoga’ in yoga studies,” she said.
A few metres inside the campus stands the main three-storey building and an annexe with at least six rooms sporting name-boards reading “Operation Theatre”, “Outpatient Room”, etc. Students said the boys were made to stay in the “OP” while girl students were accommodated in the Inpatient Ward. Another 10 boys were put up at the “Dialysis Unit” on the ground flood of the main building — sources said the unit was illegal because the college did not have permission to offer allopathy treatment.
“As part of our Bachelors in Naturopathy and Yoga Sciences, we were also asked to build the entire laboratory. We carried concrete slabs to build it,” said Arul Murugan, another classmate.
While dialysis units and operation theatres functioned in the naturopathy hospital, without a single allopathy doctor or nurse on its rolls, students said they never had teachers for subjects such as anatomy or physiology or naturopathy.
“They finished our anatomy classes in one week and physiology in one month using two interns as teachers who were forced to work here after the management denied them their original certificates. My senior batch started with about 100 students and was down to some 10 towards the end of that year,” said Murugan.
Officials and students confirmed that many were referred to this college by the state government following entrance tests and counselling.
“When the government’s fee for the courses was around Rs 30,000-Rs 55,000 per year, the management charged Rs 95,000-Rs 1.5 lakh from students. They were forced to pay the fee for two or three years in advance for the five-year programme,” said an official, who did not wish to be named.
The three girls claimed in their suicide note that “we have still not passed our 2nd year. But they have extracted 6 lakhs fee from us”.
However, students said Sudhakar Verma, the son of the chairman, obtained “unusually high marks”. “When the entire class failed in the anatomy exam, he alone had high marks in the university exam,” said a student.
A former student, who now works for the Tamil Nadu government, alleged that he was asked to pay Rs 3 lakh to get a Transfer Certificate when he chose to discontinue. “One of my seniors had to pay Rs 1 lakh more to get his original certificate and leave the college,” he said.
And all this, said students, despite routine inspections by officials of the Dr MGR Medical University that led to the college’s affiliation being renewed while complaints from students were ignored.
Sources said that even after the students staged a protest in September and October against the management at the Villupuram Collectorate, following which a detailed report was sent to the government, Subramanian “managed to settle” the cases in Chennai.
When contacted, Jancy Charles, former registrar of Dr MGR Medical University, said she never knew that situation was “this bad”. “I myself conducted multiple probes but none of the reports were against the college,” she said.
These probes, she said, included inspections by university staff, senior doctors from alternative medicine and even government officials, following complaints of atrocities against SC/ST students. Charles refuted charges of corruption but did not answer queries about how the inspections failed to unearth the truth.
She said those who were sent for inspections were all senior doctors, experts and officials and the complaints they received were all “petty” in nature.
The university’s Vice-Chancellor until last month, Shantha Ram, was not available for comment. The current V-C, S Geethalakshmi, who took charge about 10 days ago, said the university has “moved the papers to cancel the affiliation” of the college.
J Radhakrishnan, state health secretary, said he is not authorised to comment on the affairs of the university. He said he was not aware of any petitions pending against the college. S Kesavan, a parent of one of the students, said they had sent several petitions to the Chief Minister’s Cell too, but received no reply.
Back at the Villupuram hospital, the body of one of the girls, Saranya from Kanchipuram, was accepted by her parents after postmortem on Sunday night.
When contacted, Villupuram SP K S Narendran Nayar said, “We had taken five people in custody, including the son of Subramanian. But arrests have not been recorded. Subramanian is still hiding at a location in Chennai, she may be arrested tonight,” he said.
Tamil Arasan, the father of Monisha, alleged that police were protecting the owner “the same way the state health department helped the bogus college since 2008”.
“We will not allow a postmortem in Villupuram medical college as we don’t trust anyone here. We have demanded that the bodies be taken to Chennai for postmortem, to be conducted on camera and by a team of doctors and a retired judge. We will not surrender unless they seal the college and arrest Subramanian and officials of the Dr MGR Medical University,” said Arasan, an employee of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB).
SP Nayar, however, told The Indian Express: “They may have many such demands but we cannot agree to them. We will go by the usual procedure.”