Nair Dr Ching Ling: I got no complaint, written or oral, till Dr Tadvi's suicide

Updated: Aug 06, 2019, 08:10 IST | Faizan Khan

Exclusive: With testimonies in the police charge sheet bringing into question her role in the case, Nair Dr Ching Ling breaks her silence for the first time

Nair Dr Ching Ling: I got no complaint, written or oral, till Dr Tadvi's suicide
The dental clinic in Thane where Dr Ching Ling's brother practises is located in the building where their parents have been residing for decades. Pic/Sameer Markande

With newer details emerging about what exactly transpired in the months leading to Dr Payal Tadvi's suicide, the role of Dr Ching Ling, former unit head at Nair Hospital's Gynaecology department, has come under a cloud of suspicion. Dr Ling has been accused of ignoring Dr Tadvi's complaints of harassment. In an interview to mid-day, Dr Ling refutes the allegations and insists she had taken 'urgent action' on May 13.

She also insisted that Dr Tadvi had never made a written complaint nor could she or her relatives provide any solid evidence of caste-based harassment. Dr Ching Ling also detailed the proceedings of the unit meeting she had called on May 14, the day after Payal's husband Dr Salman Tadvi and her mother complained to her about the harassment.

Also Read: Dr Payal Tadvi case: Testimonies put senior doctors' roles in spotlight

As a unit head, did you ever receive a complaint from Dr Payal Tadvi for being harassed by her senior doctors Hema Ahuja, Ankita Khandelwal and Bhakti Mehare before she committed suicide?
Before she committed suicide, I never ever received any complaint in any form — verbal or in writing — either from Dr Payal Tadvi or from any other person about her being purportedly harassed by the three senior doctors.

Dr Payal Tadvi
Dr Payal Tadvi

In your statement to Mumbai Crime Branch, you have said that Dr Payal never complained to you. The first complaint was made to you by her husband and mother on May 13. What action did you initiate?
I suffered from a severe bout of Bell's Palsy since March 23 and had applied for complete leave until May 23, but I was compelled to join work early on May 13 because there was no one to take care of my unit. Dr Tadvi's husband, mother and a female relative came to meet me in the Gynaecology OPD on May 13 at around 1 pm without any intimation. Payal's husband told me about Payal being purportedly ill-treated by the three third-year residents. I asked him for details in the form of specific instances or particular episodes but they were all unable to give me a single concrete instance. He never mentioned a word about any caste-based harassment or even about plain harassment. They did not give me any complaint in writing. There is an Anti-Ragging Cell in the Hospital which is common knowledge to one and all and notices about which are displayed throughout the campus. Dr Payal Tadvi's relatives and husband did not take up the matter with the said body. Despite recuperating from an illness and without any concrete evidence, I immediately and entirely on my own initiative, proactively and urgently held a meeting of my unit the very next day — May 14. It included myself, Dr Anupama Kanwar (SMO), third-year residents, Dr Hema Ahuja, Dr Bhakti Mehare, and Dr Ankita Khandelwal, second-year residents Dr Payal Tadvi and Dr Snehal Shinde, and first-year resident Dr Anurupa Nayak. I asked them if there was any problem in the unit and whether they would like to meet me individually or together. As per their choice, the meeting was held in everyone's presence. The third-year residents said that the second-year residents were not working properly and were indulging in incorrect practices which could be detrimental to patient's lives and bring disrepute to the institution. They narrated two to three instances to explain this.

The third-year residents admitted to being very strict with the second-year residents due to their lapses since they could have serious consequences. The second-year residents — Payal and Dr Snehal Shinde — verified the correctness of these complaints. Dr Shinde said that she agreed that the third-year residents were more knowledgeable and they were not efficient in their work but they needed some concession. Payal admitted to her role in both instances and also to feeling sleepy at times. I explained to her that when she was not able to take calls, she could ask someone else to do so. The meeting concluded with the second-year residents assuring that they would be sincere and mindful in their performance of duties henceforth and the third-year residents assuring that they would not be as strict in the future. I decided to have a follow-up meeting 15 days later. I concluded that both the second-year residents (Payal and Snehal) were admonished strictly by the third-year residents due to their attitude and work-behaviour and that no one person was being singled out for being ill-treated.

Also Read: Mumbai doctor's suicide: The last call before Dr Payal Tadvi killed herself

Her husband Dr Salman Tadvi never got back to her after the May 13 meeting. Fil pics
Her husband Dr Salman Tadvi never got back to her after the May 13 meeting. Fil pics

All throughout the meeting on May 14, I was observing Dr Payal Tadvi's demeanour very closely. At no point in time did she behave in an anxious, nervous, disturbed or perturbed manner. There was therefore, no reason, cause or occasion for me to further question her. If there was the slightest hint of it, I would have immediately acted further on the issue. I met her subsequently on two occasions in the context of assessing her thesis. I closely assessed her body-language then too, which was normal without any signs of emotional distress. At one occasion, I asked Payal whether there was an improvement in the working of the unit and her interaction with the seniors and she said yes. Nothing prevented her from complaining to me about the purported caste-based harassment. I am at pains to repeat that 'Neither Dr Payal Tadvi nor her relatives ever approached me at any time to delineate the specific contours of the purported harassment by the third-rear residents and nor did anyone approach me after May 13. I assessed the matter thoroughly and determined that the issue concerned was not at all one of harassment or ill-treatment meted out to any single individual by the third-year residents, but was purely related to administrative issues about the functioning of the second-year residents. I addressed the said administrative issue immediately and suitably and resolved the same, which is a purely administrative function in my capacity as Unit Head and there was no question at all of reporting a routine administrative matter to the Dean. I did inform the HOD about the meeting.

There are contradictory statements of the department head Dr Sneha Shirodkar, who first told crime branch that you did inform her on May 17 when she came to the hospital to attend to an emergency. In her second statement though she told the investigating officer that you never told her about Payal's complaint, she came to know of it only after Payal committed suicide. Please elaborate. Do you think Dr Shirodkar is lying?
I am unaware as to exactly what has been recorded as Dr Shirodkar's statement to the Crime Branch. Since Payal never complained to me at all about any harassment, there was no question about me telling Dr Shirodkar about it. What I informed Dr Shirodkar about was regarding the meeting that I held with my Unit on May 14. There are thus, in my opinion, no contradictory statements and in my opinion, Dr Shirodkar is not lying at all.

Also Read: Mumbai doctor's suicide: Chilling minutes before and after Dr. Payal Tadvi's death

Dr Ling said that Payal's mother
Dr Payal Tadvi with her parents

If someone submits a written complaint of ragging or harassment by senior doctors, what is the common procedure which hospital follows?
The committee convenes to inquire into the said complaint immediately. If someone submits a complaint about harassment, the same is immediately attended to by whichever authority that the complaint is made to.

Payal's family and several doctors' statement clearly state that a complaint was made to you in December last year but you didn't take any action against the trio.
The said statements are false and factually incorrect and are malicious and vicious. There were never any complaints made to me in December 2018 by anybody. I was informed by Dr Shirodkar, Head of the Department, that earlier in December 2018, Dr Payal Tadvi and her husband Dr Salman Tadvi had approached her requesting that Dr Payal be given a light posting since her mother was suffering from breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. Dr Payal was immediately posted by Dr Shirodkar to the Surgery Department from December 15, 2018 to January 14, 2019 and the Neonatology Department from January 15 to February 14. Dr. Payal returned to the Gynaecology Department on February 15. The allegation that I took no action is not just completely false and baseless, it is also extremely hurtful and cruel. Despite recuperating from an illness and it being my sanctioned leave, I immediately and urgently took action the very next day. Assuming that these false allegations are correct, what did Payal's family and these "several doctors" do thereafter? Was there no one above me? Could they not complain to the anti-ragging committee, the Dean or the HOD or the administration? I am being callously victimised and falsely harassed by making me the scapegoat. I deplore this monstrous and inhuman cruelty in the strongest possible terms. It is a heartless and callous violation of my human rights.

Did you receive any complaint from Dr Snehal Shinde?
There has never been even a whisper from Dr Shinde about any purported harassment of by the three doctors. If Dr Tadvi was allegedly harassed for her caste, what was Dr Shinde allegedly "harassed" for and what made her keep quiet? Why did she never complain to any of the authorities including myself all this while? All these false allegations now being made are deliberate, as an after-thought, possibly at the behest of vested parties.

Being the unit head, what do you know about the behaviour of these three doctors? There are several witnesses including doctors, lecturers and grade four staff who have said that Dr Tadvi was continuously harassed and taunted by the trio?
I am really shocked about these allegations. If "witnesses" knew of the harassment, why did all they keep quiet about it? Why did nobody complain to the anti-ragging committee, the Dean, the HOD, the administration? If they knew and deliberately kept quiet and did nothing, they are all guilty and responsible of neglect and abetment of Dr Tadvi's tragic suicide.

How was the behaviour of Dr Payal Tadvi as a junior resident doctor?
These were reports about the functioning of Dr Tadvi and Dr Shinde by senior doctors. The subject of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is unlike the other subjects at the hospital as it involves the lives of both mothers and infants and the slightest error or slip-up brings in its wake medico-legal litigation and audits. Any incorrect functioning can have disastrous consequences for all parties involved.

What exactly happened on May 22? Where were you? How did you get to know of the incident?
It was Operation Theatre day. I left OT at 2.30 pm. In the evening, I was at home. I was informed on phone by the SMO in my unit.

After receiving the complaint from Payal's relatives, were you not supposed to bring this to the notice the anti-ragging committee of the hospital?
What Dr Salman Tadvi mentioned as ill-treatment turned out to be an issue of the lapses in functioning of the second-year doctors. Bringing lapses of functioning to the notice of the anti- ragging committee of the hospital is not necessary.

Nair hospital claims the anti-ragging committee was very much active. If it was, then why didn't you keep the committee members in loop?
It is indeed very much active. The names of the member doctors, their e-mail addresses and contact details are displayed in the form of notices throughout the college and hospital campus. But this issue pertained to lapses in functioning, which cannot by any stretch of imagination be said to be a case of ragging. If it was a case of ragging or harassment, why did Dr Salman Tadvi, who is himself an anesthesiologist at Cooper Hospital not keep the members of the committee "in the loop?"

14 May
Day Payal's husband and mother met Dr Ling to complain of the harassment

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