India’s Covid crisis has been playing out on social media, with thousands of SOS messages requesting oxygen, hospital beds, and medicines.
On April 23, one such message was posted by Mithilesh Dhar, a journalist: one Rahul Rajak had tested positive for Covid and urgently needed a bed.
Rahul did get admitted not long after and found an ICU bed. Then BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia got involved: he spoke to the local collector and told him to “help”. This “help” involved moving Rahul from one hospital to another, and the second hospital refused to admit him.
Rahul died on its doorstep.
Here’s what happened.
‘My son was in agony’
Mithilesh tweeted about Rahul at 3.38 pm on April 23.
“A 30-year-old youth is serious in Gwalior,” Mithilesh said. “The oxygen level has dropped to 80. Need bed immediately.” Adding a contact number, he tagged the Twitter handles of Scindia and fellow BJP leader Narendra Singh Tomar, and writer Ashok Pandey, among others.
Mithilesh did not know Rahul, 30, a resident of Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh, who had gone to Gwalior for Covid treatment. People familiar with Rahul’s case had asked the journalist’s help in finding a bed.
Ashok, who had been tagged by Mithilesh, contacted Rakesh Pathak, a journalist in Gwalior. Rakesh, in turn, telephoned Rahul’s father Anand Rajak to offer support.
“I spoke to Rahul’s father. He said his son had been admitted to the ICU of KM Hospital,” Rakesh told Newslaundry. “When I asked him to let me know if he needed any other help, he said no help was required at the moment because treatment had begun in the ICU.”
Rakesh accordingly passed on the news on Twitter, telling concerned users that he had spoken to the family and the patient was in the ICU. Ashok tweeted it as well at around 4.33 pm and tagged Scindia and others in the tweet. Scindia did not respond but “liked” the tweet.
Oddly, Scindia then tweeted at around 5.14 pm saying he had “arranged it by asking the concerned people”. This was after Rahul was already admitted in the ICU at KM Hospital – something that Scindia had nothing to do with. His tweet received multiple RTs and praise for his concern.
But Mithilesh, Rakesh and Ashok rested easy, knowing that Rahul was in safe hands.
Then, at around 12.10 am, Mithilesh said, a friend of the Rajak family told him that Rahul had died.
“Apparently someone named Kaushlendra Vikram Singh called the patient’s father. This Singh assured the family of getting the patient admitted to Birla Hospital after being discharged from KM Hospital,” Mithilesh said. “Singh asked the family to go to Birla Hospital and contact Dr SL Desai.”
Anand Rajak, Rahul’s father, confirmed to Newslaundry that he had received this phone call from Singh and was told to take Rahul to Birla Hospital. The family also received a phone call from “Dr Prateek” who assured them that Rahul would be admitted at Birla Hospital.
Birla Hospital is around five km from KM Hospital and is a renowned hospital in Gwalior.
Rahul’s family was confused but complied, saying it had all happened very suddenly and they were told that Rahul would get “better treatment” at the new hospital. He was discharged and taken to Birla Hospital in an ambulance.
“There, they asked Dr Desai to admit him and gave Singh’s reference,” Mithilesh said. “But he refused to admit him. He claimed he hadn’t received any phone call or information about it.” Mithilesh tweeted several times, tagging Scindia, but received no response.
Rakesh confirmed this sequence of events. He spoke to Anand Rajak at 11.40 pm.
“He told me that on Kaushlendra Singh’s word, his son was moved to Birla Hospital but was not being admitted,” Rakesh said. “He was in agony inside the ambulance. The father said the treatment was fine at KM Hospital but on someone’s word from the administration, he was taken to Birla. He was inconsolable. He said, ‘Nothing can be done now. Our son is departing.’”
Even as the family frantically tried calling Singh, he did not pick up the phone. Meanwhile, Rahul’s oxygen levels plummeted. He died soon after midnight in an ambulance outside Birla Hospital.
“We have been terribly betrayed,” Rahul’s father Anand told Newslaundry. “We were told to go to Birla Hospital with claims that our son would be treated here...But upon reaching, he was not admitted. I pleaded with Dr Desai again and again but he didn’t listen. I stood with folded hands in front of them but no one admitted my son. What else can I tell you? My son died in agony right in front of me.”
“What is the point of moving a patient from one hospital to another during this shortage of beds when he was already being treated?” Mithilesh asked. “Got him discharged but not admitted again – the boy died outside the hospital in agony.”
A phone call to the collector, but no help
But who was this mysterious Singh?
Kaushlendra Vikram Singh is the collector of Gwalior. He told Newslaundry that Rahul’s case “was brought to his attention” but refused to say by whom.
“Some tweets, etc, happened after which I received the instructions,” he said. “Someone did call us but I cannot tell you who called. I was told the patient was in a bad state, that’s the reason behind admitting him to a different hospital...It is not that they were not admitted. His condition was critical. Despite all the efforts, he could not be saved.”
But why didn’t he take the family’s phone calls, when they were desperately calling him to ask why Birla Hospital was not admitting Rahul?
“Maybe the phone was busy at the time and that’s why we couldn’t talk,” he said.
Newslaundry asked Dr Desai why Rahul was not admitted. “We gave CPR to the patient twice,” he said obliquely and disconnected the call.
But who called Singh?
Jyotiraditya Scindia confirmed to Newslaundry that he had made the phone call.
“I tweeted and told the collector to get him hospitalised, considering his condition,” he said. “But I do not know why he was not admitted. However, we will talk to the collector and the matter will be investigated...I regret the death of the person and will regret it forever. We deeply regret that a life was lost. Every life is valuable.”
He added: “But don’t just look at this case. I’m helping people with all my capacity and will keep doing it. Also, look at the work I’ve done in the last 15 days.”
A version of this story was first published in NL Hindi. It was translated to English by Shardool Katyayan.