Doctor Death

Out of jail, and back to business of conducting abortions that police says are blatantly illegal. Majid Maqbool  and Tasavur Mushtaq report on a doctor that police wants to keep perpetually behind the bars but can not.

Dr Ghulam Nabi Bhat is not your ordinary doctor. Police records suggest him to be ‘doctor death’ and ‘candlelight surgeon.’

Instead of saving lives, police says he takes them away—and he earned the ‘doctor death’ title for snuffing out lives even before they are born. Additionally, the infamous doctor was caught conducting a surgical procedure in Chadoora without electricity under candlelight’; and that’s when he earned the title of ‘candlelight surgeon.’

Dr Bhat had managed to set himself free three times. But the doctor, dismissed from service due to old age, was caught red handed a fourth time in Srinagar while performing a surgical procedure on a young woman in Jehlum Diagnostic Center near Hari Singh High Street, close to the banks of the river Jehlum. The Directorate of Health Services in Kashmir has launched a campaign to seal unlicensed nursing homes, hospitals, clinics and laboratories in Kashmir.

The team of the Department of Health, led by Srinagar’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Farooq Ahmad, was on a routine check on Friday, January 13, when it visited Dr Bhat’s center and grew suspicious.  The CMO conducted a raid on the spot. The front door of the Jhelum Valley Diagnostic Center was found closed, but it became clear within minutes that a doctor was operating his business through the rear door. “It was at that moment we came to know about this,” says the director of health services in Kashmir, Dr Saleem Ur Rehman.

Acting swiftly, the team called the Shaheed Gunj police station, and in a joint operation, caught the doctor who was trying to flee from the other side. Dr Bhat was soon taken into custody. The arrested medico was operating on a young lady in a room which was dilapidated, unhygienic and unfit for medical and surgical procedures, the officials said. “We called SDPO Shaheed Gunj Mr Imtiyaz and he did a great job and was very cooperative, says Dr Saleem.

SDPO Shaheed Gunj said that the joint team of Department of Health and Police found a young woman in an unconscious state. “Her abdomen had been cut. The accused later said that he was conducting only a ligation but there are complaints that illegal abortions and miscarriages at exorbitant costs were being conducted there. We have registered case FIR No: 02 of 2012 under section 3/8 of Nursing Homes and Clinical Establishment Act against the accused, seized two or three DNC kits and an unauthorized USG machine. Further investigation is in progress,” SDPO Shaheed Gunj said.

The diagnostic centre is registered as an X-ray clinic but inside the clinic, the team found a sonography machine, a laboratory, and a small operation theater.

Sources said that in this procedure which led to his arrest, Dr Bhat had charged a sum of Rs 2,000 from the young woman (wife of Mohammad Ayub Baba of Chattabal). The young lady was evacuated in unconscious state and operated later at JLNM hospital in Rainawari and was reportedly stable. “Thank God our team reached there, otherwise she would have died due to the cold and unhygienic conditions,” said Dr Saleem.

This was not the first time the accused doctor was caught. He has a record of criminal and unethical activities under his belt. Dr Bhat had earlier been dismissed from service on a similar charge, and booked under case FIR No: 10 of 2003 at Police Station Chadoora. The illegally-run Jhelum Diagnostic Center had been sealed on a barrage of complaints last year. Case FIR No: 41 of 2011 had been registered against him at the Shaheed Gunj police station. ‘Doctor death’ actually has unsealed the centre which was sealed on May 31, 2011 for carrying out illegal abortions and sex determination tests in his clinic. Although jailed for 2O days in Sheergari police station, the doctor was bailed out by the court on June 20, 2011. However, immediately after being released on bail, the accused resumed business at the same center and installed a fresh USG machine and other equipment used in conducting abortions. For more than six months, he was a free man, till he was caught in a fresh incident of carrying out an abortion.

Dr Bhat’s age did not deter him to do the worst. After carrying out illegal abortions in his clinic, the doctor would do the unthinkable: he would discard all fetuses in the Jehlum, according to sources.  However, his attempts to drown the evidence did not conceal his crimes. “Over the years he carried out many abortions and sex determination tests in the clinic,” said the Sub Divisional Police Officer, Sheergari police station, Muzaffar Shah. “We seized certain things meant for abortion and also recovered one fetus from the clinic,” says Shah.

Shah was heading the police party that caught doctor in 2011.

He says although the doctor was not a sonographer, he would conduct all tests himself, including x rays. “He also had a small operation theater inside the clinic where he would do all the surgeries as well,” says the police officer.

Earlier during investigations, police found that the doctor and his two associates did not maintain any record to prevent detection of their illegal practices. Police officials say the diagnostic centre would charge Rs 10, 000 as fee for carrying out abortions.

Dr Bhat is from Bomai, Sopore and resides in Kralpora, Chadoora Budgam. In 1997, he was working as a government doctor in Chadoora. That year he was placed under suspension for dereliction of duties. Then he started his own clinic in the city, where he was based fulltime since 2003, and carried out illegal abortions and sex determination tests, according to police investigations confirmed by the health department.  

The clinic was operating illegally since 2003. Dr Bhat has been found involved in illegal abortions in the past as well. Before his arrest in May 2011, he already had two cases registered against him. Police officials say he was arrested in 1997 and an FIR was registered against him in the Chadoora police station.  In 2003, he was accused of carrying out an illegal abortion in his clinic and another case was registered against him in Shaheed Gung Police station. On all three occasions, he managed to free himself. All these years, he kept the clinic functional and carried out illegal tests. Police officials say illegal abortions were carried out in the clinic since 2003.

Police say the accused doctor has denied all charges of carrying out illegal abortions—from the past and the present. In his defense, the doctor said that he only conducted minor surgeries in the clinic. But police say the doctor is tainted, and already had a history of being involved in such cases.

When Dr Bhat was released on bail last year, police authorities who raided the clinic say they had strongly opposed his bail. “He is an influential man and has spent a lot of money to get bail,” says a police official who was part of the police party that raided the clinic and arrested the doctor. “It will be difficult to put him in jail again for his crimes. He has been through it before in two cases and he knows how to get out of the jail,” he says.

Public outcry on the illegal abortions that the doctor carried out in his clinic over the years has come to affect his life. The clinic has been closed, and the doctor remains ostracized in his locality. Police officials say the doctor has also been disowned and denounced at home for bringing shame to the family.

In a similar case, the directorate of health services team conducted a raid at an illegally run hospital at Khayyam Chowk, after being tipped off about it. The team caught the staff of the 10-bed private hospital red handed while running an authorized USG centre. Team members were astonished to learn that the authorities had sealed an unauthorized USG unit at the same hospital, some time back.

“Only a trained and well qualified gynecologist is competent and by law authorized to conduct such kind of a surgery. He or she too needs a professional anesthetist and several machines after proper diagnosis of the patient. But, in this case, we found an inexperienced surgeon

that conducted 17 uterus removals in a month. We are proceeding against the guilty,” Dr Saleem-ur-Rehman said.

The campaign against these centres is on, but scores of these illegally run centres have never stopped their business. According to sources, anything between Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 (depending on marital status and economic background of a woman) was being charged for each illegal miscarriage; which could cause extensive damage to a patient, and also lead to her death in absence of a proper equipment, trained anesthetist and other medical and paramedical staff.  

Sources said an investigation revealed that some technicians, medical and paramedical staff had broken the seal of the USG machine and were operating the same unit without fear of authorities. Some people insisted that the hospital staff had resumed business only after greasing the palms of some officials of Department of Health. They alleged that the teams had been raiding and sealing such centers, but other officials of the department were asking the owners to pay them some money and resume their business.

The ‘candlelight surgeon’ is said to be performing particular surgeries habitually. Sociologists say this is nothing but commercialization of a profession, and the sole objective is to earn more and more money. “They are not bothered about humanity, their sole objective is money,” said sociologist Dr Bashir Ahmad Dabla.

Dr Bhat is behind bars again. Police say he could get bail again for his crimes against humanity.

“How long will he continue, and how long he will get the free hand is what needs to be answered,” says Raahat, a university student.

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