With 1,500 students and an equal number of staffers, Gian Sagar Medical College and Hospital in Banur, 35 km from Chandigarh’s bus stand, was a beehive of activity till about a year ago. Its hospital attracted 1,000-odd patients and their attendants from the adjoining areas every day.
These days, the only noise that reverberates in its corridors is that of protesting students and staffers. The employees, including faculty, have not received their salaries since October last year. No classes have been held after January. Exams are round the corner but students don’t know whether they will be able to appear in them.
STUDENTS, STAFF PROTEST
The institute was all chaos when the Hindustan Times team visited it this week. There was no power or water supply – we learnt that both had been disconnected. The doors of most rooms, including classrooms, were locked. A bunch of students stood protesting outside the institute.
There’s no restriction on the entry as security guards have also joined the protesters, who include some doctors (60% quit after not being paid) and other staffers. Inside, a tehsildar and a few police personnel were taking down notes from the protesters. They said they were here to take a memorandum of demands. “We’ve been assured that our memorandum will reach former Patiala member of Parliament Preneet Kaur, who will do something about us,” said a faculty member, requesting anonymity. “We’ve knocked at all doors, the health minister, the chief minister, and several bureaucrats. Nothing has happened so far. But we can only hope for better.”
- On March 24, the trustees gave a written undertaking in a meeting convened by state health and medical education minister Brahm Mohindra, saying that they were trying to mop up funds from investors in Benguluru and other sources, and the disbursement of staff salaries will begin from March 31.
- But that did not take place, and this led to the ongoing protest by the staff and students intensifying. It even resulted in their temporary detention in Chandigarh last week. Now the government is trying to come up with another solution.
“We don’t know what happens next. It’s a deserted place now with no power and water, and no staffers as they haven’t been paid for six-seven months now,” said the institute’s dean, Dr AS Sekhon. “Whether students get to sit in exams will depend on Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, which would know that there have been no classes for two months now,” he added.
The institute wasn’t always like this. Figures provided by the hospital say that in 2015, more than 3.2 lakh outdoor patients came here for treatment, which translates into 1,100 people a day. The hospital had 1.93 lakh indoor patients that year, which works out to 530 per day. The 626-bed hospital with 10 super-specialty departments such as neurology and urology, and 20 multi-specialty departments such as emergency and trauma, boasted of 85% occupancy during its peak.
The institute is spread across 100 acres and has two campuses with several buildings, colleges, departments and hostels. The medical college has 100 seats, which is double that of Chandigarh’s Government Medical College and Hospital in Sector 32. GMCH-32 usually offers 50 seats, which are increased to 100 only after annual clearance by the Medical Council of India (MCI).
The college had a smooth run since its inception in 2007 with its enrolment increasing to 1,500 students in various streams over the past decade.
- The college is run by Gian Sagar Educational and Charitable Trust, whose current chairman is an NRI doctor named Barjinder Singh. But insiders say that the entire show is run by its managing trustees, Harsatinder Singh and his wife Barinder Bhangoo, who is daughter of Rs 45,000-crore chit fund scam accused Nirmal Singh Bhangoo, owner of the Mohali-based Pearl group, whose only son Harvinder Singh was the college’s founder chairman till his death in 2011.
- After Bhangoo’s arrest in January 2016, there were fears that enforcement agencies probing the scam would seize this college property as well, but it has not been touched so far. Many, however, link the college’s deteriorating financial situation to the Bhangoo family’s misfortunes that began as early as in 2014 when pressure built up for the arrest of Nirmal Singh Bhangoo.
When its faculty and paramedical staff sat on dharna for the first time in February last year to demand their pending wages, it was perceived as a temporary crisis. A recent government inspection report pinned the blame on financial mismanagement by the administration, which failed to prioritise compulsory expenditures, including staff salaries, despite collecting the annual fee of over Rs 35 crore from students.
While the management in its defence claims that much of its revenue went into paying off bank loans, the protesting faculty is not ready to buy it. A teacher alleged there is apparent siphoning of funds and wasteful expenditure at the behest of the top management. “For example, under MCI rules, the college does not need a chief executive officer, but it has one who draws over 72 lakh per annum even though he has no technical knowledge to run the college. We don’t need two posts of dean and principal as only one is sufficient,” said a faculty member.
- A senior government official, who didn’t want to be quoted, said the government was working on two possibilities. The first option is to shut down the college and move out all the students for which the health ministry and academic bodies, including medical and dental councils of India, have already been taken on board.
- The second is to appoint an administrator who will collect the next session’s fee in advance and start running the college. The DC, this official said, has the power to appoint a receiver to protect the interest of the students. Sandeep Kumar, a faculty member, said shutting down the college is not an advisable option since the college feeds more than 1,000 families, who will go unemployed if it is closed.
He added that college accounts showed that Rs 40 lakh was paid as salary to bouncers, which is surprising. They also alleged that the books showed more number of employees than those actually on the rolls. The salaries being drawn by the trustees are also shrouded in secrecy.
Protesters say the college has fine infrastructure and it can still run effectively if the management has the right intent.
‘MANAGEMENT NOT COOPERATING’
Ever since I assumed charge as minister, I have spent most of my time addressing problems being faced by students of Gian Sagar College. But all my efforts have been futile because the management did not cooperate and back-tracked on its commitment to clear the salary dues of staff and faculty. We have now placed the matter before chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who will convene a meeting of senior officials on April 15 to take a final call on this matter. The government is concerned about the future of over 1,500 students and will take an appropriate call on priority.
-- Brahm Mohindra, Punjab minister for health and medical education
I get Rs 12,000 per month as salary, which hasn’t been paid for six months. The management promised in writing that our interests will be protected. The government must intervene.
-- Jaswinder Singh, technician
I am the only earning member in my family. My father has been ill. I ahve worked hard here all these months, but for five months, I haven’t been paid a single rupee.
-- Manpreet Singh, security guard
There has been no power and water. There’s no security either. All girls have been forced to vacate hostels. We come here occasionally to find out if there is any positive development.
-- Amandeep Kaur, student of BSc nursing
I come from Rajpura daily with the hope of getting salary. My family has no money to buy wheat. I have been spending money on bus fare.
-- Pardeep Kaur, assistant
My husband is a daily wager and he gets work on some days. That’s why my salary was very crucial to run the household. I’ve worked hard for seven years here, but it’s getting bad to worse.
--Ranjeet Kaur, assistant