ARANMULA/ THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: On a day Kerala registered its highest single-day Covid case count, public outrage rang loud across the state after it came to light that a 108 ambulance driver raped a 19-year-old Covid patient at Aranmula in the early hours of Sunday.
While the driver was arrested within hours of the incident, the State Human Rights Commission ordered a probe after registering a case suo motu and the Opposition tore into the health department and the government over the lapse in protocol.
The commission has sought a report from State Police Chief Loknath Behera and the health secretary within 15 days on the action taken against the driver. “The rape occurred in a 108 ambulance and it is mandatory that healthcare workers should be present along with Covid-19 patients while taking them to hospitals or Covid First-Line Treatment Centres. However, only the patient and the driver were present in the ambulance in this case and it is a serious lapse,” the commission pointed out.
The police said the accused, Noufal, 29, of Panakkachirayil, Kayamkulam south, raped the girl after he was tasked with transporting two female patients — who tested positive on Saturday —from the Adoor general hospital. While the 19-year-old was to be taken to a CFLTC in Pandalam, a 42-year-old was directed to the district hospital in Kozhenchery.
“After the older woman was admitted to the Kozhenchery district hospital around 1am, the driver parked the ambulance at an isolated place near Nalkkalikkal bridge on the way to the site for the abandoned airport project in Aranmula. The girl was raped after opening the back door of ambulance. Later he dropped her at Pandalam and drove off to the general hospital in Adoor,” a police officer said.
While the accused Noufal threatened the girl and asked her not to reveal the abuse, she reported the incident to healthcare workers at the CFLTC and with their help lodged a complaint with the Adoor police. Noufal, who was in a PPE kit while driving, was arrested in the morning from the general hospital premises. The two women had arrived at the Adoor hospital on Saturday evening. Unfortunately, no bed was vacant there for Covid patients. Sources in the health department said the driver took a longer route to ensure that the older woman was dropped off first.
As the incident took place in Aranmula, the case will be handed over to the Aranmula police. The accused is married and has a child.Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala demanded to know how a murder suspect became an ambulance driver. He said the incident has brought shame to the state. “Why was the girl not accompanied by a health worker? The LDF government and the health department owe an explanation,” he said.
BJP president K Surendran also expressed similar sentiments while KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran termed the incident “beastly and barbaric”. Youth Congress and Yuva Morcha workers staged protests at the District Medical Office in Pathanamthitta.
Meanwhile. Health Minister K K Shailaja said the victim would be provided with the necessary treatment and protection. “The police have been asked to complete the inquiry fast. A directive has also been given to GVK EMRI to ensure that those employed in the 108 service had their police clearance certificates,” she said.
It may be recalled that State Human Rights Commission chairman Justice Antony Dominic had earlier ordered the police chief to verify the backgrounds of ambulance drivers. The order was based on complaints against ambulance drivers at the Government Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.
Will ensure strict action, says health minister
Terming the incident extremely disheartening and unfortunate, Minister K K Shailaja said the health department will conduct an inquiry and ensure strict action to prevent similar incidents in the future.