Major lapses in the recruitment of drivers to the Kerala government-run 108 Ambulance services have come to light with the arrest of Naufal, who allegedly raped a COVID-19 patient in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district on Saturday night.
Ambulance driver Naufal, 29, was arrested on Sunday morning based on a complaint by the victim's mother.
According to the complaint, Naufal assaulted the 19-year-old en route the COVID care centre in Kozhencherry after parking the ambulance in a deserted area.
Onmanorama has now learnt that Naufal got the job without producing Police Clearance Certificate (PCC), a mandatory document for the appointment of employees in the 108 ambulance service.
Kerala's health department runs the 108 ambulance service in partnership with the GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute. The recruitment of the staff, including ambulance drivers, technicians and paramedical staff, is conducted by GVK EMRI.
The selection of the staff begins with the publication of vacancies in mass media. Apart from certificates to prove qualification, selected candidates have to produce police clearance certificates from their home police station prior to their appointment.
A top official of the GVKEMRI in Kerala told Onmanorama that Naufal and a few other have not produced the police clearance certificate so far. “He had produced a letter stating that he requested PCC from the Kayamkulam police station,” he said.
After his arrest, it emerged that Naufal was an accused in a murder case. This has triggered a controversy as to how a person with a criminal history was appointed as an ambulance driver.
The police clearance certificate is normally issued after checking whether the applicant was involved in any criminal activity in the past.
The official said Naufal was terminated from service immediately after he was arrested.
“We started the service in Kerala in September last year. The recruitment procedure were almost completed in December-January. In February, we had issued a letter to all employees asking them to produce the PCCs immediately or face termination from service. Following that over 90 per cent of the staff had submitted their PCCs,” he said, adding that they could not follow up others' cases due to the COVID-19 situation.
“Naufal had submitted a copy of the request he had made to the Kayamkulam police station seeking a PCC. He had said that he would produce the certificate as soon as it was issued. He submitted the letter sometime in December-January, before the reminder was sent to the employees,” he said.
The official said the company on Sunday issued a fresh letter to all the employees to produce new PCCs immediately.
Police not sure about letter
The Kayamkulam police could not immediately confirm whether Noufal had requested for PCC. The police said PCCs are normally issued within a week of the request. The requests can be submitted in a white paper.
'Govt has no role in recruitment'
A senior official of the health department told Onmanorama that the state government does not have any role in the recruitment of the staff of 108 ambulance services. “The recruitment is done by the company that provides the service based on contract. We make the payment to the contractor based on their service and we have a system to check it. We just ensure that the services are conducted promptly,” the official said.
The officer said the ambulances' trips could be monitored from the control room in Thiruvananthapuram.
A qualified emergency lab technician with knowledge of first-aid used to accompany the driver while transporting COVID-19 patients, said the official. However, in the Aranmula incident, there was no staff other than the driver.
Asked about this, the GVK EMRI official said a lab technician accompanies only COVID patients who need their services. “If a patient just has to be transported to the hospital, we don't send a technician as part of social distancing,” he said.
There are 315 ambulances available for service in the state. According to the GVKEMRI official, 108 ambulance services have been used to transport 1,40,000 COVID patients/suspects in the state.
Opposition slams govt
Opposition parties, Congress and BJP, have slammed the state government for the incident.
Terming the incident shocking, Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala blamed the health department officials for not ensuring the safety of the woman patient. He also demanded an inquiry into the recruitment of a murder accused as ambulance driver.
Youth Congress state president Shafi Parambil and BJP state president K Surendran also blamed the government for the incident.