A 19-year-old woman who tested positive for Covid-19 was raped allegedly by an ambulance driver while being taken to hospital late Saturday night in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district.
Police arrested the driver, Noufal, and said he has a case of attempted murder pending against him since 2019. Police also said he had not obtained the mandatory clearance certificate before joining as a driver with the state health department’s ambulance service, which is operated by GVK EMRI Emergency Management Services. Pathanamthitta.
Superintendent of Police K G Simon said the driver picked up the victim and another woman, a 40-year-old Covid patient, from Adoor. While the 19-year-old was to be admitted to a Covid First Time Treatment Centre at Pandalam, the other woman was to be taken to a Covid centre in Aranmula. Though Pandalam is en route to Aranmula from Adoor, the driver went directly to Aranmula, dropped the 40-year-old there, and then set off to Pandalam with the 19-year-old. On his way, the driver allegedly drove the ambulance to a deserted place and raped her, before taking her to the Covid centre.
Police said that before dropping her off, the driver apologised to her and told her not to speak about the incident. Police said the woman recorded the conversation and informed the hospital staff, leading to the driver’s arrest.
The SP said the condition of the woman is stable.
Health department officials said if there is more than one patient from a particular locality, they usually arrange for them to be picked up together and shifted to hospital.
“The driver’s chamber is partitioned and no other staff or nurse accompanies the driver while ferrying patients to hospital. This is to limit the exposure of health workers to infected persons. In rare cases, if the patient is serious, we send a nurse. In this case, both patients were stable,’’ said the official.
As the incident triggered outrage from political parties and civil society, Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja said, “It is a shocking incident. The GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute, which operates the ambulance service, was asked to take action.’’
The Kerala Human Rights Commission and Kerala Women’s Commission have sought an action-taken report from the police. Women’s panel chairperson and CPI(M) leader M C Josephine said people with criminal record should not have been put on Covid duty. The incident, she said, shows that women patients require special protection while being taken to hospital.
The Opposition said the government should reveal why a person with criminal background was put on Covid duty.
In a statement, GVK EMRI said the driver has been removed from service and a police complaint filed against him. “The GPS of the ambulance has been handed over to police… So far, 108 ambulance services have completed 1.50 lakh trips as part of Covid operations. The accused driver, Noufal, had not obtained a police clearance certificate while joining duty. He had submitted a written undertaking that he would soon obtain a clearance certificate, based on which he was hired… All drivers have now been asked to submit clearance certificates against the backdrop of this incident,’’ it said.
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