The Haryana government Friday announced a probe to find whether “legal formalities” were followed by the Dera Sacha Sauda while organising the donation of 14 cadavers from among its followers to a private medical institute in Lucknow this year.
Health Minister Anil Vij said that Haryana’s director-general, health services, has been asked to conduct a “thorough inquiry” into the supply of cadavers, allegedly without death certificates, to the GCRG Institute of Medical Sciences for studies from January 1 to August 31.
“If the cadavers were sent by the Dera to the medical college, the legal formalities should have been completed. The reason for sending the bodies must be ascertained. Orders have been issued to examine the matter and find out the facts,” Vij said in a statement.
The probe was announced on the day when Haryana police and paramilitary forces launched a search operation at the sect’s headquarters in Sirsa after Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was jailed on rape charges 14 days ago.
Officials at the GCRG institute in the Bakshi ka Talab area, about 27 km from Lucknow city, confirmed that the institution received the cadavers donated by Dera followers and acknowledged that they did not have the death certificates. They claimed, however, that the institute had ID proof and other documents to validate the
donations and that “several other medical colleges across the state” also benefited from this “service”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Luxmi Kant Pandey, manager, marketing and public relations at the institute, said, “In the last financial year, when this medical college was started with permission for 150 seats, we were facing a shortage of cadavers for studies. We got to know that most of the medical colleges were listed with the Dera Sacha Sauda, which used to ensure that its followers donated their bodies to medical institutions. Like most other colleges, we decided to avail their services. If you check the records of other medical colleges, you would find that 80 per of them are beneficiaries of this service.”
Asked about charges that the cadavers were donated without death certificates, Pandey said, “Most of these were natural deaths, at their homes. We may not have death certificates but we have photocopies of aadhaar cards and ID proof of not only those who died but also of those who handed over the cadavers along with affidavits on stamp papers from the families, with photographs and contact numbers. The institute has also kept copies of ambulance receipts for each corpse.”
The GCRG institute has a hospital with a capacity of 350 beds. Sources at the institute said that when they faced a shortage of cadavers, they “came to know” that many medical colleges in the region were listed with the Dera, which motivates its followers to donate their bodies for studies.
“The only payment expected was money for the ambulances used to carry these corpses from different parts of Haryana and Punjab to the institute. The fare sometimes went up to Rs 20,000, based on the distance, but we agreed to pay the price to ensure continuity of this service,” said sources.
They said that they decided to contact the Dera after a team from the Medical Council of India (MCI) pointed out during its visit to the college this year that the institute had only one cadaver for studies, which was not enough.
Speaking to The Indian Express from Kariwali in Sirsa, Sukhmandar Singh, son of Sat Singh, whose body was brought to the Lucknow institute on March 18, said, “My father was a follower of the ashram for ages. He had submitted in writing, like many others, to the ashram that he wanted his body to be donated for medical studies. We followed his wish.”
Sukhmandar said, “Once my father passed away, the arrangements were done by the ashram, including the ambulance, photocopies of ID proof and affidavits.”
In May, the Union Health Ministry decided to “debar the college” from admitting students for a period of two years, and authorised the MCI to encash the bank guarantee of Rs 2 crore, stating that the institute was not following prescribed guidelines.
On August 19, the Ministry referred to its May order while ruling out conditional permission for the institute to open a medical college in another part of Lucknow.
Quoting the findings of a committee formed on the orders of the Allahabad High Court, which was approached by the institute, the Ministry said in its August order, “The explanation offered by the college in obtaining 14 cadavers from Dera Saccha Sauda Sirsa, Haryana without requisite permission and death certificates is a serious issue to be looked into by the concerned authorities.”