How Lok Nayak started as Irwin Hospital in 1936 — after a budget cut

If you ever have to ask for directions to Lok Nayak Hospital from a rickshaw driver, ask for ‘Arbin hospital’ or ‘Irbin hospital’ since many in the area still remember it by its old name – Irwin Hospital.

The medical institute in Old Delhi, now Delhi government’s largest, was opened on April 7, 1936 — six years after its foundation stone was laid on January 10, 1930. As per documents accessed from the Delhi Archives Department, this came after the then ‘Dufferin Civil Hospital’, built to accommodate 120 patients, had started getting over burdened.

At the Archives department, written communications show how British officials posted in Delhi felt the need for a new hospital, especially since, by the end of 1928, Delhi had a recorded population of 50,000 people. In one of the letters written to Viceroy Lord Irwin by the then chief commissioner of Delhi in 1927, he mentioned the poor condition of the Civil Hospital and wrote about the need for a new one. The “Civil Hospital” did not have a proper OPD; the regular ward accommodation was underground; and in times of heavy rain, it flooded with rainwater and sewage.

The already existing Hindu Rao Hospital had 25 beds and was meant only for a select few. The government then decided to plan a new hospital outside Delhi Gate to cater to the people of Delhi, particularly women and children.

In 1928, it was proposed that a new hospital would be built in immediate proximity to the Central Jail Complex near Delhi Gate. Initially, a sum of Rs 60,97,600 was sanctioned for the construction but the standing finance committee cut down the budget to Rs 45,38,000. Lord Irwin and his wife laid the foundation stone, the text of which was approved by the viceroy himself.

According to Dr Amit Banerjee, former medical superintendent of Lok Nayak Hospital, after shifting prisoners from Central Jail Complex to another prison, the barracks were converted into makeshift wards and an OPD was developed. The jail complex had long halls where beds were placed on both sides for patients and huge windows provided ample ventilation. Later, new buildings came up and the barracks were demolished.

“The last remaining barrack was demolished in 2010 before the Commonwealth Games began,” he said. “Charge for the construction was given to an eye surgeon named Brigadier Martin Melvin Cruickshank, who also became the first medical superintendent of the hospital.”

Initially, a 350-bed arrangement was made which was considered big enough to cater to the needs of the growing population. The maternity department was the first to come up.

Banerjee said the beauty of the hospital lies in its geographical location: “While the hospital catered to the people of Old Delhi, its proximity to New and Old Delhi railway stations and interstate bus station brought patients from the United Province as well.”

According to Dr Suresh Kumar, the current medical director of the hospital, during Partition in 1947, when Delhi witnessed a large influx of refugees, Irwin Hospital, whose growing needs were falling short, saw another expansion programme and a dedicated ward for Tuberculosis.

Dr Banerjee said the hospital also sent teams during the Bangladesh Liberation war. “I was completing my graduation. We did not expect too many casualties because the war was taking place elsewhere, but the hospital did witness and treat refugees coming from Bengal. We had sent a team of doctors who went with government support to the Bangladesh border to provide first aid and medical support and institutional care,” he added.

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Dr Siddharth Ramji, a former medical director of the hospital who also studied in MAMC, said the building where the current Medical Director sits is a heritage building and has been preserved as it is: “The hospital has grown from a tertiary care to a super speciality. It is the largest hospital to have a dialysis facility and was the first hospital to have it in Delhi.”

In November 1977, the name was changed to Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital in honour of Jayaprakash Narayan. The name was later shortened to Lok Nayak Hospital by Delhi government in 1989.

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