Patiala incubator deaths: Doctor gets 2-year jail

  • Vishal Rambani, Hindustan Times, Patiala
  • Updated: Dec 19, 2014 12:14 IST

A Patiala court on Thursday awarded two-year imprisonment to Prof KK Locham, head of the paediatric department of Rajindra Hospital and Medical College here, along with two others, in the incubator death case.

A fire had broken out in the nursery unit of the hospital on the intervening night of January 30 and 31, 2009. Five newborn babies, who were being treated for jaundice on the phototherapy machine, had died of burns.

The court held Dr Locham, staff nurse Rita and Class-4 employee Satya Devi guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The court of additional district and sessions judge Rajinder Aggarwal also imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 each on all accused. However, the court granted bail to the convicts to allow them to appeal in the higher court.

Following public uproar and criticism in the media over the deaths, the Punjab government had promptly suspended the medical college principal, doctor on duty Dr Neha Sharma, Rita and Satya for alleged negligence on duty. Dr Locham, who had not been on duty that day, was suspended later, only to be reinstated in 2013.

The state government had appointed justice KC Gupta, a retired judge, to probe the deaths. In his report, justice Gupta observed, “There is a lack of supervision at every level. Prof KK Locham is the head of the paediatric department as well as the incharge of the nursery unit. Being the head, he is liable vicariously for the grave negligence committed by his staff in their duty.”

Justice Gupta had indicted then medical college principal Dr Jaswinderpal Kaur Shergill, Dr Locham, Dr Neha Sharma, Rita and Satya Devi for negligence.Following the inquiry report, the case was referred to the secretary, medical education, for an investigation into the role of officials found guilty of acts of omission/commission or negligence, as highlighted by justice Gupta.

Subsequently, then secretary, medical education, Raji P Srivastava had written a letter to the Patiala senior superintendent of police (SSP) for registering an FIR against Dr Locham, Rita and Satya Devi, while absolving the other two of the charge of criminal negligence.

‘Liable for negligence’

“The IAS officer (Srivastava), in her report, said Dr Locham was liable for negligence in the repair of incubators, while Satya and Rita were not present near the incubator and were in the doctor’s room,” said public prosecutor DK Jain.

The incident had occurred on account of breakage of the platform and loose tubes in the phototherapy unit and the non-availability of plexiglass and plastic sheets. “Had the plexiglass and plastic sheets been supplied and he (Dr Locham) had inspected the unit, innocent infants could have been saved from the unfortunate incident. In this way, Dr Locham has not performed his responsibility and obligation properly and had committed this negligence,” the report had said.

The report added that Dr Locham knew that the wiring system in the room was of poor quality and could cause loss of life any time, but he did not made any efforts to improve the same. Therefore, Dr Locham, Reeta and Satya Devi are guilty of causing death to five newborns due to burning; hence, they are guilty of offence punishable under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code, it added.

After a trial that lasted two years, the court awarded two-year jail sentence to the accused.

When asked to comment on the judgment, Amritpal Singh, who lost his newborn child in the incident, said, “The bail granted after awarding two-year imprisonment is unfortunate. I want that there should be strict punishment for the culprits who show such medical negligence so that others realise the value of a newborn child.”

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