On May 28, Devram Bhisikar, a retired factory worker, complained of chest pain and was taken to the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad.
After the 71-year-old patriarch was admitted, his family was told to leave and call the helpline for details of his condition.
Later that day, duty doctors at the Gujarat Cancer Research Institute (GCRI), a part of the Civil Hospital, helped Devram video-chat with his family. That was the last time they saw him.
Next morning, the Bhisikar family received a call saying Devram was doing well and could they bring certain things to the hospital for him.
As they returned home, the family received another call saying his condition was deteriorating. At 2.30pm, 22 hours after he had been admitted, Devram’s family was told he had died.
The devastated family was given his body, tightly wrapped in plastic sheets as is the practice for Covid-19 patients, without being shown his face. Devram was cremated by his two sons-in-law that evening.
Early on May 30 morning, the grieving family received a call from the GCRI control room saying Devram’s coronavirus test results were negative, he was doing well and could they please come and shift him to the non-Covid area.
They rushed to the hospital hoping their father was still alive, only to be told that the control room had made a “mistake” and the body they had cremated was indeed their father’s.
The macabre fiasco did not end there. Just as they returned home, another call came from the GCRI control room saying Devram was “doing well”. Another “mistake”!
This is just one of many traumatic and bizarre incidents that have emerged from Ahmedabad’s Civil Hospital, Gujarat’s largest government hospital and main Covid-19 facility.
When The Telegraph reached out to Dr J.V. Modi, medical superintendent of the Civil Hospital, to find out if any accountability had been fixed for the Bhisikar incident, his office said “some mix-ups were happening” but directed us to the Gujarat government for answers.
A Gujarat High Court bench had compared the Civil Hospital to a “dungeon” before it was quickly replaced with a new bench.
Ahmedabad has emerged as one of the worst pandemic-hit cities in India, with the district crossing 20,269 positive cases.
The death toll in the home city of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah on Saturday was 1,410. Ahmedabad accounts for more than 65 per cent of Gujarat’s total cases and 79 per cent of its fatalities.
After Maharashtra and Delhi, Gujarat has recorded the highest Covid-19 death toll at 1,790 till date. And yet neither the Centre nor the Gujarat governor, Acharya Devvrat, has reprimanded chief minister Vijay Rupani or sought reports on why his government is doing such a bad job.
The Civil Hospital has recorded 50 per cent of all the coronavirus deaths in the city. That’s another red flag that the Gujarat government is papering over, particularly as the producer of the Dhaman-1 “fake ventilators” that were pushed into the hospital is a close friend of Rupani.
The friend is the same person who had gifted Modi a monogrammed suit that the Prime Minister wore during a visit by then US President Barack Obama in January 2015.
In the initial days of the Covid-19 outbreak, most of the cases in Ahmedabad were being detected from the old city, inhabited by Muslims and poor Hindus.
So, the government’s reaction was to completely seal off the entire walled city, ensure heavy deployment of police and paramilitary personnel, and blame the Tablighi Jamaat as super-spreaders.
“We have lived under curfew for two months and the police have treated us like criminals. They did not supply us with essentials and beat us if we ventured out to shop for them,” said Irfan Sheikh, a resident of Dariapur where the Tablighi Jamaat has its local headquarters.
It was only when the majority of the cases started coming from “new” Ahmedabad’s middle-class colonies — the backbone of the BJP’s support base — that the government sat up and took notice.
Over 1,000 fruit and vegetable vendors, shopkeepers and salesmen at grocery markets that had remained open throughout April tested positive and were identified as super-spreaders.
Rupani announced a seven-day curfew on the whole of Ahmedabad, closing all essential supplies except for milk parlours and pharmacies, which did not go down well with the public.
“When Rupani should have been gearing up to deal with the coronavirus, he was busy welcoming Donald Trump at Motera stadium. We spent Rs 100 crore on ‘Namaste Trump’ and invited the coronavirus into our homes,” said Kirit Desai, a resident of Satellite Road.
The mega event had gathered a crowd of 1.25 lakh in Ahmedabad, with thousands of guests coming from America at a time the virus had already gripped New York. Ahmedabad’s first Covid-19-positive case was recorded on March 17, just three weeks after Trump’s visit.
While the lockdown measures have been relaxed, Ahmedabad’s daily coronavirus-positive counts continue to breach their previous highs.
The city’s Covid-19 centres have reached their capacity and private hospitals are bickering with municipal authorities over the charges fixed by the administration.
Unable to deal with the rising cases, the state government has reduced testing substantially, hoping to fudge figures. While other states are increasing their daily testing, Gujarat’s testing graph is decreasing.
In mid-May, Gujarat was conducting more than 10,000 tests daily; by the end of May the number had fallen below 3,000.
The Telegraph contacted Jayanti Ravi, principal secretary (health), for comments on both the Bhisikar controversy and the allegations of government bungling on the Covid-19 crisis, but received no reply.
Rupani’s attention has now been diverted to politics, yet he is not accused of mishandling the pandemic by either Shah or Modi.
The story was first published in The Telegraph