From bypassing his authority, to apparently planting news reports against him, to removing him from headship, to charging him with stealing another faculty member’s courier, publishing fabricated data in a research paper and repeatedly charge sheeting him, the powers that be, over the last six years, have kept his basket of worries full, and given him sleepless nights in defending himself against the unending onslaughts on his dignity.
Photos By : Life In Chandigarh
The dogged senior faculty member, Dr Amitava Chakrabarti, Head of Pharmacology Department, however, with unflinching support from a senior PGI colleague, Dr. D. Banerjee, professor in the Department of Experimental Medicine and Biotechnology, who acted as his defence assistant, fought on gamely to clear his name. And, one by one, the charges, framed in charge sheet after charge sheet, have come apart, much to the embarrassment of his tormentors.
In his 23-page report, submitted to the PGI Director Prof. Jagat Ram on March 31, 2018, the inquiry officer, Dr. D. Behera, then Head of Pulmonary Medicine Department (now retired and re-employed), who deliberated on a charge sheet issued in November 2016, has absolved Dr Chakrabarti of the most serious of the charges slapped against him thus far – publishing fabricated data in a Delhi based Medical Journal, Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research (JCDR). This has virtually put a lid on all controversies targeting the Pharmacology Department HoD.
Dr. Chakrabarti’s retirement is due in a month’s time, and the decision on his promotion to rank of senior professor lies pending with the PGI Director in a sealed cover. Under the circumstances, delay on the part of PGI Director in announcing his decision on the inquiry report is baffling. Pending a final decision on the inquiry report, which has pronounced Dr. Chakrabarti “not guilty”, the charge sheet against him still stands, putting his pension benefits and his possible promotion in peril.
PGI Director Prof Jagat Ram when confronted on this issue by lifeinchandigarh.com on Monday confirmed that the inquiry conducted by Dr. D. Behera had indeed absolved Dr. Amitava Chakrabarti of the charge of publishing fabricated data in a medical journal and informed that the charge sheet against him will be dropped after following the due process of getting approval of the institute governing body. Incidentally, the last institute governing body meeting was held in June end 2018, nearly three months after Dr. Behera submitted his report.
PGI Director Prof. Jagat Ram
Asked why a decision on the inquiry report has been kept pending for six months when it is known that Dr Chakrabarti is due to retire at the end of October this year, he denied having received the inquiry report six months ago. “It was put up before me just a month ago, and is in process,” he claimed. This contention of the PGI Director is falsified by a noting made by him on the covering page of Dr. D Behera’s report, referring it to the Deputy Director Administration (DDA) PGI as early as on April 2, 2018, just two days after the report was submitted to him. This document is also in possession of lifeinchandigarh.com.
To another observation regarding there being a design behind PGI issuing three charge sheets, one after the other, against Dr. Chakrabarti in the run up to his being considered by a Departmental Promotion Committee (DPC) for promotion as Senior Professor, and charges in all of these falling flat in the face of inquiries, Prof. Jagat Ram said all this happened before he took charge as PGI Director and hence he was not privy to the circumstances.
In the conclusion to his inquiry report, Dr. Behera, while pronouncing Dr. Chakrabarti not guilty of the charge of fabricating data on the basis of evidences produced before him, has stated that a large part of the data supporting the Dr. Chakrabarti co-authored article “Thangaraju P, Singh H, Chakrabarti A, Drug Information Unit as an Effective Tool for Promoting Rational Drug Use” published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research in 2013, was evident on the face of the record, and the data seemed to be genuine, and not fabricated. He has also observed that the newspaper report on which the charging authority has relied on was a result of “improper investigation”.
Dr Behera has inferred that it seemed that all the things that happened were “a created problem” because of the rivalry in the faculty of the Pharmacology Department headed by Dr Chakrabarti. He has also noted that the missing forms of the DIU (Drug Information Unit) run by the Pharmacology Department, the centre of the entire forged data controversy, was not an ordinary issue and definitely needed to be probed by the competent authority in this case.
He has also recommended that the competent authority seek the explanation of one Dr Samir Malhotra, professor in the Department of Pharmacology, for verbally and hurriedly allowing inspection of documents related to the functioning of the DIU by a print media journalist on the same day of the latter filing an RTI application, following which the forms were reported to be missing.
This, Dr. Behera pointed out, was done in the absence of the officially designated Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the department, Dr Chakrabarti, who was abroad on a short duty leave, attending an international conference. A complaint regarding the missing forms was also lodged with the PGI Director by the working post graduate student in the case and first author of the article in question, Dr. Thangraju P.
The complaint was filed when he came to know about his missing forms through a RTI application following a hurried retraction of the research article by the journal, without following the internationally followed prescribed procedure, after a newspaper report questioned the authenticity of the data on which the article was based. However, PGI authorities never conducted any inquiry on the student’s complaint of his missing forms.
Dr. Behera has further raised doubts over the entire episode of the journalist’s RTI application and its aftermath, observing that there was something “fishy” about the “RTI thing”.
Dr Behera, in his report, has also highlighted the shoddy way in which earlier fact-finding committee chaired by Dr. Savita Malhotra, Dean, PGIMER, Chandigarh and the Institute Ethics Committee (IEC), headed by Prof. Emeritus Dr. KS Chugh (since dead), both of which indicted Dr. Chakrabarti, had conducted their proceedings without even interrogating the authors of the article, particularly the corresponding and the working authors, who were both students of the department. He questioned how the minutes of the IEC report was signed by Dr Samir Malhotra who was specifically kept out of the IEC meeting on account of conflict of interest.
The reports of both committees placed before him were not enclosed with a single piece of evidence. The prosecution also did not provide a single piece of evidence to support the observations in the reports, he affirmed. He also pointed out that Dr. Savita Malhotra refused to present herself before his inquiry for cross examination and justifying her report, despite repeated reminders and personally talking to her.
Two Other Charge Sheets
Apart from this charge sheet, Dr. Chakrabarti also faced two other charge sheets issued in December 2016 and March 2017 for the grievance letters he had addressed to the institute’s governing body, and routed through proper channel, alleging illegalities and abuse of power by then PGI Director Dr Y.K.Chawla. Acting on the grievance letters, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had on both occasions written to the institute head to examine the complaint and take necessary action. Dr. Chakrabarti was instead charge sheeted on the ground of tone, tenor and language of his grievance letters. He was, however, exonerated of the charges after inquiry and both charge sheets were subsequently withdrawn by PGI Director in April 2018.
Former PGI Director Prof. YK Chawla
Surprisingly, all the charge sheets were served on Dr Chakrabarti by Dr Subhash Varma, who was working as officiating Director following the retirement of Dr Y.K. Chawla in October 2016, in the run up to his being considered by a DPC for promotion as Senior Professor.
Sequence of Events
1. Dr. Chakrabarti rejoined PGI Chandigarh as Professor of Pharmacology in 2004 & on Sept 1, 2011 was promoted as Head of Department of Pharmacology.
2. In 2012, a dispute flared up between Dr. Amitava Chakrabarti and Dr. Samir Malhotra over the former’s handling of the issue of resignation by a physically challenged MD (Pharmacology) student Dr. Pankaj Maheshwari, working on his thesis under the supervision of Dr. Samir Malhotra (guide) and Dr. Nusrat Shafiq (Co-Guide), just three months short of completing his three-year M.D. course. The student had in writing alleged harassment by his guide and co-guide. Following an exchange of written communication between Dr. Chakrabarti and Dr. Malhotra, the matter was precipitated to the PGI Director by the former pointing to use of derogatory remarks by the latter through a letter.
Instead, Dr. Chakrabarti was informed about a new order by PGI Director Dr Y.K.Chawla that in future comments from guide and co-guide should be sought before proceeding further with such complaints by a student. This despite the fact that the Pharmacology department head acted in accordance to a written advice of the Dean, PGI, to whom the complaint was referred.
3. This issue had not died down, when another cropped up regarding “false claim” of nomenclature of graduate medical qualification made by Dr. Malhotra in his ACR (annual confidential report) form, with the reporting officer Dr. Chakrabarti pointing out the discrepancy in nomenclature of MBBS degree mentioned by him in the Annual Confidential Form (ACR form) and photocopy of a diploma issued by a Russian University supplied by Dr Malhotra in response to a query.
Dr. Chakrabarti, subsequently, sent the ACR to the reviewing authority, the Dean PGI. In response, he received a memo bringing to his notice Director Dr Y.K.Chawla’s order in which he had observed that asking a faculty member for MBBS degree with regard to ACR amounts to harassment of the concerned faculty member.
4. In the next evaluation period 2012-13, it came as a shock to Dr. Chakrabarti that he had been bypassed in the case of Dr. Malhotra’s ACR on being informed through a memo that the ACR form had been submitted directly to the Dean PGI and it will be reviewed by him.
5. In spite of issues over nomenclature of Dr. Malhotra’s degree in his ACR he was promoted to the post of Professor.
6. In February 2013, amidst these controversies, Dr. Chakrabarti’s name was sought to be embroiled in a complaint submitted by Dr. Malhotra in his official capacity to the PGI Police Post that he had not received two documents he was expecting to be delivered by courier. Investigating the complaint, the police approached Dr Chakrabarti, accompanied by the courier delivery boy, who claimed that he had delivered to Dr. Chakrabarti the courier addressed to Dr. Malhotra, a contention vehemently refuted by Dr. Chakrabarti. He nonetheless cooperated in the investigations as police sought to match Dr. Chakrabarti’s signature with that on the delivery sheet.
Dr. Chakrabarti claimed that two separate independent forensic experts he consulted had definitively concluded that the signatures did not match. Notifying this to the PGI Director, Dr. Chakrabarti in writing sought his permission to file a defamation suit but the request has yet to be responded to. Police subsequently filed an FIR in the matter without naming Dr. Chakrabarti.
The CFSL Shimla report, submitted by the police in Punjab and Haryana High court, stated that the signature on the delivery sheet did not match with that of Dr. Chakrabarti’s day to day signature and the signatures taken in the district court on two different occasions. Accordingly, Chandigarh police has submitted its status report of untraced document in the matter, which is pending in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. However, then PGI Director Dr Yogesh Chawla, Dr Malhotra and Dr Nusrat Shafiq had contended in their affidavits filed before the court, much before the CFSL report and the Police report, that in fact Dr Chakrabarti had taken the courier of Dr Malhotra without taking his consent.
7. In March 2013, Dr. Chakrabarti was in for another shocker. He was asked to face a fact-finding committee, with Dr Savita Malhotra, then HoD, Psychiatry Department, as convener and Dr Jagjit Singh Chopra, Emeritus Professor, as Chairman, on a complaint of mental harassment against him by Dr. Nusrat Shafiq (co-guide in the MD student’s thesis controversy). Not surprisingly, the key witness for Dr Shafiq was Dr Samir Malhotra (guide in the same thesis controversy).
A majority of the faculty members of the Pharmacology Department, including two lady faculty, denied that during a departmental meeting there was any incident which could have caused mental harassment to Dr Shafiq, as claimed. Despite this, the committee, while observing that Dr. Chakrabarti is “paranoid” and “litigious” and that both Dr. Shafiq and Dr. Samir Malhotra are being harassed by Dr. Chakrabarti, recommended that he be removed from headship of the department. The observation came despite Dr. Chakrabarti asserting before the committee that he had not seen the face of any court till that time in his life. Without instituting a formal departmental inquiry, PGI Director Dr Y.K.Chawla removed Dr. Chakrabarti from headship of the Pharmacology Department in January 2014.
8. Dr. Chakrabarti challenged this, and the Chandigarh bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) in July 2014 set aside the PGI Director’s order, maintaining that the fact-finding committee had traveled beyond its jurisdiction to opine against the cause of Dr. Chakrabarti and that the Director PGI had acted on his whims and fancies and violated natural justice.
9. The CAT order was appealed against by the PGI Director in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which has till date not provided any stay. On the contrary in the latest hearing, the high court has de facto allowed Dr. Chakrabarti to continue as HoD till his retirement in October end 2018 by adjourning the case to a November date.
10. All this while, a section of media kept running news reports showing Dr. Chakrabarti in poor light. His written pleas to the PGI Director to be allowed to rebut the “false charges” against him by addressing the media either went unheeded or were declined. Eventually, Dr. Chakrabarti in 2014 filed a damage suit against Editor of the medical journal Dr. Hemant Jain, the Editor and then Correspondent (Vishav Bharti) of one of the leading English language newspapers and Dr Samir Malhotra, which is pending in court.