Thursday, 1 March 2018

How a reporting duty ended up in rescue mission

If the heartrending screams of an elderly woman led to many others being rescued from St Joseph's Hospice at Paleswaram village in Kanchipuram district, my attempt to trace the two rescued persons, who were later abandoned, met with success owing to a lot of ‘lung power’ and ‘young power’.

It’s been a week since St Joseph's Hospice was in the centre of a controversy leading to allegations of illegal bone export and organ trafficking. The hospice has been shut by the district administration as they have an expired licence.

Out of the 323 elderly patients housed in the hospice, about 250 have been shifted to other hospices and old age homes in the district. And 69 patients were moved to Chengalpet GH on Wednesday (Feb 28).

In the meantime, sources said one of the patients from the hospice, who was earlier rescued by the police and public, was reportedly left unattended on the premises of Chengalpet GH on Tuesday.

According to the sources, the man, who could be around 75 years, was rescued along with Annammal last week from the ambulance that carried both of them from the Tambaram centre to the Paleswaram hospice.

It all started when Annammal started to scream that she was being 'kidnapped'. On hearing this, a motorist passing by Idayampudur road stopped the ambulance and handed them over to the police.

An investigation was carried out by them and it was later found that the elderly man was Palani (76) from Palayamkottai in Tirunelveli district, (Initial reports said his name was Selvaraj. Its still confusing) and Annammal was from Cooum village in Tiruvallur district. There was also a corpse and a load of vegetables in the ambulance. The deceased was identified as Vijayakumar(70) from Dindigul.

Before being ‘rescued’ by the hospice, it was said Annammal and Palani were wandering on the streets of Chennai and Chengalpet. .

Following the rescue by the police and public, the two rescued elderly persons were reportedly admitted to Chengalpet GH for a medical check-up. All these incidents happened on 20 February. About six days later, on Monday, the patients from Paleswaram hospice were shifted to other homes by the district administration.

On Tuesday, I received information from Robert, a news channel reporter from Kanchipuram district about Palani at Chengalpet GH. On Wednesday, I rushed to the hospital and spotted him after an hour of search. He was found lying on a platform near the casualty block. I further struck up a conversation with Palani, initially, but, he was unable to speak properly.

When I asked whether he had eaten, the elderly man gestured that he could not get proper food. Later, the man was fed and taken to the waiting hall of the hospital around 11 am. A security guard from the hospital said, "He has been here for the past three days and we have no idea who he is. We shared our food whenever possible. Otherwise, we do not know how he gets to eat."

A sanitary worker of the hospital said, "A person comes every day to give food to such destitutes in and around the GH. But, he gives only breakfast and dinner."

I then contacted local social activist-law college student, Muneeswaran, to help me proceed further.

In the mean time, when the GH's Resident Medical Officer Kandhan Karunai was enquired about Palani, he said, "I have no idea who he is and who you are talking about."

In turn, he asked me back, "Who admitted the person to the hospital, and why was he taken in here?"

Also, he queried how he could have left the bed if he was really admitted. I really had no clue about all these. After a 10-minute argument, the RMO finally agreed to re-admit Palani with a condition: "Any one can be admitted only if they are sick or not well. This is a hospital and we are ready to serve anyone. But, we only can care for unhealthy persons."

Apparently, I tried to contact the local police and the District Social Welfare Officer, to get details about the admission. But, the attempts went futile.

When Muneeswaran reached the spot, he suggested taking Palani to an old age home. After a bit of convincing, the elderly person agreed to be shifted to an old age home.

Luckily, a private home run by the relative of Muneeswaran's friend Madhan (another activist-law student ) at Madurantakam came forward to take Palani under their wing.

"They can provide food, shelter and clothing to Palani," said Madhan. Getting an assurance signed from Muneeswaran and me, Palani along with two other elderly destitute persons at Chengalpet GH were taken to the home at Madurantakam by ambulance around 2 pm on Wednesday. However, Annammal is still not traceable.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chengalpet, March 1, 2018.