The Indian Army for the second time in two days issued a statement on Thursday on the controversial transfer of Maj Gen Vasu Vardhan, the commandant of the force’s 1,000-bed Covid care facility in Delhi. Maj Gen Vardhan, one of India’s top pulmonologists, has been on the job for 18 months at the Army’s Base Hospital Delhi Cantonment (BHDC) and has served there with distinction. In a highly unusual and abrupt move, he was transferred to the Research and Referral (R&R) Hospital in the city as an additional officer on May 10. The posting, which effectively renders him without any work, has come just three months before the officer is due to retire, and amid reports that he has had to pay the price for saying no to VVIP requests for the antiviral remdesivir.
The army in a carefully worded statement says that Maj Gen Vardhan was posted out as part of an “HR Management Plan". It says that Vardhan retires in three months. In the same time frame his deputy Brig Sandeep Tareja will also be moving out of the hospital as he has been promoted to the rank of major general. This will not be in “the best interest of the establishment that is treating Covid patients" says the statement, and so another officer, Maj Gen SK Singh, has been appointed as the commandant of the base hospital “so that there is adequate overlap and continuity in the top hierarchy of the hospital in these challenging times". Maj Gen Singh is a plastic surgeon and was a deputy commandant of the AMC Centre and College in Lucknow.
The army also says that Maj Gen Vardhan can use the three months at his disposal to destress and plan his future.
The statement isn’t cutting much ice within the army. A senior officer says, “At a time when we are recalling doctors who have retired from the services to meet the crunch, do you really have the luxury to give a Covid doctor time to destress and send him on a punishment posting because he didn’t oblige the powers that be?"
At the base hospital, there is dismay. Sources say Dr Vardhan, who lost his mother a few days ago, reported back on duty the same day. He has been “an inspiration” at a particularly challenging time when the hospital is overflowing with patients and is short of everything including doctors and nurses. At one time the hospital was even critically low on oxygen supplies. An SOS call that went public was not received well by authorities.
But there have been complaints as well. A retired brigadier, infected with Covid, didn’t get a bed at the base hospital and died on his way to Mohali. A retired lieutenant general had written to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat as well, complaining that veterans and their families were not being looked after well by the base hospital.