A visit to the director’s office at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal is akin to visiting an ultra high security zone. You go past unarmed guards provided by an agency and then you enter a fortified area complete with sandbagged posts manned by the CRPF wielding automatic weapons. Past that you are greeted with signs that read “Visitors not allowed beyond this point” and then you get to the ante room and find Manipur Rifles personnel armed with AK-47s — the personal security detail of the director. The aura of the institute being an advanced centre for medical sciences seems to have been lost somehow.
It is now a premier centre for medical sciences and draws students from across the North-east region save Assam. It celebrated its 43rd foundation day on 14 September and has so far produced 2,904 doctors and 1,053 specialist doctors. Today it has 418 undergraduate students, 414 postgraduate students, 161 BSc nursing students and 95 pursuing a degree in dentistry on its rolls. It also has 24 different departments dealing in subjects as diverse as anatomy and otorhinolaryngology and provides service and care to patients who flock to fill the 1,071 beds available. Last year, it catered to 43,317 in-house patients while another 299,178 were treated as outdoor patients.
Initially, it began as the Regional Medical College funded by the North Eastern Council but was converted into a Centrally managed institute under the Union ministry of health and family welfare in 2007 with a board of governors headed by the Union health minister as chairman and the Manipur chief minister as vice-chairman. Its executive council is headed by the Union health secretary as chairman and its director as member secretary. With such a vast infrastructure and an even more impressive management set-up, one would be coerced into thinking that all is and has to be well with its affairs. On 14 September 2010, Professor S Sekharjit Singh was appointed its director of by the UPA-II set-up in Delhi.
Then on 25 August the bombshell arrived from Delhi in the form of an order signed by a deputy secretary in the Union health and family welfare ministry which stripped Sekharjit Singh of his post and Professor Chongtham Arun Singh of the Department of Orthopaedics was asked to take charge as director until further orders. The drama began unfolding bit by bit, revealing murky business at the Rims where Singh and his caucus functioned much beyond the Hippocratic oath. First, he refused to recognise the Centre’s order stating that a director cannot be removed just like that and he bolted his door and bolted. The Centre then advised Dr Arun Singh to take police help, break open the door and assume charge, which he did the next day. Sekharjit Singh then attempted to take the help of the judiciary and moved Manipur High Court, but Justice N Koteshwor turned down his appeal for a stay on the dismissal order. Then he, accompanied by his son and daughter, both medical doctors, left the state and has not been heard of since.
In the meantime, the CBI had earlier registered a case against Sekharjit Singh on charges of corruption relating to irregularities in the purchase of dental chairs and other misappropriations. On 23 May this year, the CBI furnished the FIR copy to the District and Sessions Judge, Manipur East, and earlier it had also earlier registered a case against Dr L Fimate, Sekharjit Singh’s predecessor.
Then the CBI, which hitherto in Manipur had only been dealing in murder cases, decided to go a step further and raided the official quarters of Sekharjit Singh and nine other places, including his wife’s and daughter’s houses. The seized items included documents, laptops and computers that were said to have revealed a wealth of information but the most damning of all seems to be a letter alleged to have been written by Sekharjit Singh’s wife to the president of Manipur’s BJP unit asking him to return the Rs 1 crore paid earlier to forestall the impeachment move and the CBI raids. This amount seems to be a pittance for a man said to be owning three houses in Manipur and others in Guwahati, Kolkata, New Delhi and Bangalore and is said to have paid Rs 4 crore to the personal assistant of then Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad for his appointment as Rims director.
But what Sekharjit Singh did goes much beyond the records on the CBI files. For instance, he recruited 121 nurses against 71 sanctioned and advertised posts. The bribe fee was said to have hovered around Rs 15 lakh each for the first 71 and Rs 25 lakh apiece for the remaining 40. And although he tried to get post facto sanction for the 40 seats from the executive council, he failed but they continue to be on the rolls and received salaries till date. He also managed to turn the Rims into a hotbed of corrupt contractors, most of them said to be relatives of his wife.
He went on a spree of digging drains and constructing walls all around and even stripped the wooden planks of the Gymkhana, paved it with cement and again installed teak flooring — all on contract. He also decreased the retirement age of the heads of departments from 65 to 62 years to enable his wife to head the department of anatomy.
When the Nursing College was established, he appointed her principal and when protests arose he made her the advisor of the college, overriding the principal. What was shocking was the manner in which he treated 47 men and women hired as daily wage workers who were being paid a paltry Rs 3,000 a month. The women were utilised by his wife as domestic help and have not been paid for the last five months while their salaries had been withdrawn. And often it was his wife, referred to as “Madam”, who would dole out their salaries at her residence — not in cash but in the form of Amway products for which she is today a platinum card holder agent.
According to Chongtham Bijoy Singh, who resides in the village adjoining Rims and had spent the last three years chronicling Sekharjit Singh’s misdeeds, the man was trying to behave as a despot and his wife, Damayanti, acted as if she was a reincarnate of Imelda Marcos.
Professor Chongtham Arun Singh acknowledged to The Statesman the public perception of Rims being in the centrestage of corruption and added that while he did not know how long he would be holding the office, he pledged to bring about transparency in all spheres of life at Rims, which, he hoped, would mitigate the apprehension of the public in days to come. For now, his morning walks have been rendered impossible because of the bevy of security guards detailed for his protection.
The writer is based in Imphal