Ahead of dismantling, assets of Rs 60-crore Tata Hospital transferred to Kasaragod District Panchayat

  • PWD and DMO seek help of Tata Project to disassemble 23 pre-fabricated containers
  • An RCC building will come up at the spot to house a critical care unit at a cost of Rs 23 crore
TATA Covid hospital
TATA Covid hospital

Kasaragod: The government has transferred the assets of the Rs 60-crore Covid Hospital built by Tata Project to Kasaragod District Panchayat, ahead of dismantling the unit to build a concrete structure for Rs 23 crore. The new structure will house a critical care unit and function under the District Hospital, managed by the District Panchayat.

The Government Order transferring the ownership of the hospital's assets from the Department of Health to the District Panchayat came two days ago, said District Medical Officer (DMO) Dr A V Ramdas on Wednesday, March 13.

The District Panchayat has asked the PWD and the DMO to find ways to dismantle the prefabricated shipping containers, which Tata claimed had a life of 25 to 30 years.

The DMO and the PWD's Executive Engineer have written two separate emails to Tata Project seeking its help to disassemble the shipping containers, officials said. "We are not familiar with shipping containers so we sought Tata's help. They said they would reply in detail soon. We are yet to get their response," said a top official of the PWD.

Not all containers have to be removed, though, said the DMO. "Around 23 containers will be removed to make space for the concrete structure. The process will take time before the work is started," said Dr Ramdas.

At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tata Project built a 551-bed quarantine and isolation centre using 128 prefabricated shipping containers on a five-acre plot on the banks of Chandragiri River at Kasaragod's Thekkil Village.

Apart from the Rs 60 crore sourced from Tata Group's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Fund, the state government invested another Rs 15 crore to build an approach road to the hilltop hospital, set up an uninterrupted power supply, and sewage management. It also provided the land, taken from the Muslim Islamic Complex (MIC).

On September 9, 2020, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated the Covid management hospital and called it an asset to the healthcare sector of Kasaragod district which lacked tertiary care. The government created 188 posts for the hospital (though it appointed only around 20 staffers). The hospital treated 4,987 Covid patients.

But after the pandemic, the government found the containers, lined up on 81,000 sq ft (1.86 acres), a white elephant and difficult to maintain.

It ignored calls by many, including Kanhangad MLA E Chandrasekharan, to convert the hospital to a palliative care centre for endosulfan-affected patients. There were also demands to house the containers in a chest speciality hospital, dialysis centre, and daycare centre for people with disabilities.

On January 12, 2023, Health Minister Veena George told a meeting of Kasaragod MLAs in Kanhangad that the government was considering dismantling the containers and building a concrete block to house a speciality hospital.

On March 8, 2023, Udma MLA C H Kunhambu released a statement saying the government has sanctioned Rs 23 crore to build a critical care centre at Thekkil village.

"In the first phase, Rs 23 crore has been sanctioned for the construction of a new building with 50 beds and ancillary facilities to start the critical care unit. In the future, this hospital will become a high-quality speciality hospital and function as an affiliated hospital of the District Hospital in Kanhangad," Kunhambu said.

He said the 188 posts created at Tata Hospital were deployed to other hospitals. But they would be brought back once the critical unit became functional, he said.

Doctors in Kasaragod were not impressed by Tata or the government.

They found the containers, each measuring 400 sq ft and priced around Rs 50 lakh, disproportionately expensive. Only three to five patients could be accommodated in a container that cost Rs 50 lakh, a doctor, who was part of the district's Covid management, told Onmanorama. And during the rainy season, water seeped inside through joints of windows and also through the wedge under the doors.

In a report to the Supreme Court, the District Legal Service Authority Secretary Karunakaran B said there were a lot of issues in the structure such as leaking rooms, the durability of the floor built using plywood, and the high risk of fire.

The doctors of Kasaragod also panned the government for investing another Rs 23 crore in the building when "the district needed specialist doctors and equipment and not new buildings".  

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