India: Prime Minister's Security May Have Led to a Death By Slowing Access to Hospital Services

By Matthew Harwood

The visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to a hospital convocation on Tuesday is alleged to have led to the death of a desperately ill man, after the PM's security detail blocked the car holding the man from entering the hospital gates.

Sumit Verma, 32, died of kidney failure after he and his family battled traffic and security to get to the city's premier Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education in the northern city of Chandigarh . According to The Times of India:

Verma's kin alleged that after a two-hour struggle, they managed to wind their way to the hospital gate, but were blocked again by Chandigarh police, manning the outer perimeter of the multi-layered security ring that's thrown around any VVIP venue.

The PM was at PGI for the institute's convocation.

"Uniformed cops stopped our car from entering PGI's main gate, which is located opposite Panjab University campus. We were told to go from the other gate about a kilometre away. It took us a lot of time to get there as traffic was chaotic because of security arrangements," said Aruna, the victim's sister-in-law.

VIP protection in India often leads to major inconveniences for the public as traffic piles up and access to buildings is denied, reports and the Asian Tribune.

"Correspondents say people in India are frequently held up in traffic and denied entry to public buildings because of heavy security during VIP visits," reports "Students have missed examinations and patients have died in ambulances in the past as they waited for vehicles carrying VIPs to pass."

The rationale for such extensive VIP security is protection from assassination. Over the past 25 years, two prime ministers have been assassinated: Indira Ghandi and her son Rajiv Ghandi.

The hospital and the police have denied responsibility for Verma's death. The hospital said that its facilities stayed open during PM Singh's visit and that 40 patients had been treated during his visit while police claimed only "minimum traffic was halted," reports Agence France Press. The hospital also claimed that Verma was in the end stages of kidney disease.

But the response from PM Singh has been entirely different.  He apologized to the family and ordered an investigation into the incident.

"I have issued instructions so that in future authorities are more sensitive to the concerns of the common man while imposing restrictions for reasons of security," Singh wrote in a letter to the family quoted by the Asian Tribune.

While The Times of India acknowledged that VIPs need protection, the paper argued that security must be tweaked to ensure incidents like Verma's death do not happen again.

While important people like the Prime Minister need to be given total security cover, there must be better ways of providing it. It's bad enough when VIP security disrupts traffic on the roads for much longer than needed. But when a city's most important hospital becomes off bounds for patients urgently needing life-saving attention, it is totally unacceptable. If providing security to the PM on campus means disrupting the functioning of the hospital's essential and emergency services, even for a few minutes, the function must be held elsewhere. Ceremonies are not and cannot be more important than saving lives — least of all for a hospital.

♦ Photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by London Summit/Flickr


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