At a time when healthcare charges are skyrocketing leaving no option for the poor but to rely on the failing healthcare system of the state,private efforts in the form of Netaji Eye Hospital at Behala in Kolkata offer a glimmer of hope for the underprivileged sections of society.
It all started with a dream of Swami Asimananda Saraswati,who was a noble and compassionate soul entrusted to the service of mankind,to provide free healthcare to the masses. Since the days of the independence struggle,he was an active social worker in Ramchandrapur (erstwhile Bihar),now in Purulia district of West Bengal,and a close aide of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
It was an event in 1940 when a blind hapless person accidently fell in front of the convoy carrying Bose and Swami Saraswati in Purulia that inspired Swamiji to do something for the poor blind, says his son,Nandadulal Chakroborty.
In 1941,Sri Sri Bijoy Krishna Ashram Relief Society was founded,which acted as the Trust for the formation of the Netaji Eye Hospital. From 1955 onwards,the hospital started functioning as a permanent unit with only 10 beds.
From the very beginning my father ensured that patients in the outdoor department were always treated for free and that a nominal charge was levied for surgery cases. Till date we are following his principles and charge Rs 630 for operation of underprivileged cases, says Nandadulal Chakroborty,who is now the Relief Societys general secretary.
After receiving assistance from the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind,UK,from 1995-2000,the Netaji Eye Hospital became a 250-bed super-specialty centre,which still provides free treatment to around 700-800 outdoor patients every day in Purulia.
We get patients from all over Bihar,Jharkhand and Orissa. We attract thousands of patients from Burdwan,Nadia,24 Parganas,etc, says Niladri Sekhar Chakroborty,an executive body member of the society.
Dr Subrata Ray,an eye surgeon associated with this hospital for almost five years now,recalls his experience when he had met a blind man of 30 in Muradih station. I asked him where he was from,he replied he was from somewhere in North 24 Parganas. I asked him how he had managed to reach this far,he replied he had come in search of Netaji Eye Hospital and he was begging to earn Rs 630. I gave him my card and asked him to come next day. Nandadulal babu immediately arranged for his free operation and he came back after many years to pay the sum,which he had saved this time,not by begging but by working hard.
Impressed by the good work of the Relief Society,the Kolkata Municipal Corporation granted 16 katha land at Sarsuna in Behala some 15 years ago. The land was granted on a 25-year lease for Rs 100 per month.
The general secretary explains: Prashanta Chatterjee,the then mayor of Kolkata and the local councillor of Sarsuna,Nirmal Mukherjee,helped us a lot. We have a plan to start a 100 bed super-specialty hospital here.
While construction of this hospital was on,the society started another small eye hospital very close to the granted plot on a pilot basis,which has now been running for almost five years.
When asked about his experience with the urban poor,Nandadulal Chakroborty says: We cater to patients across a 15-20km radius around Behala,from Maheshtwala,Budgebudge etc. We employ around 25 staff here and have five doctors. In Behala we have a free OPD and have a minimum charge of operation that is Rs 630. The response from the urban poor has been equally enthusiastic,so we need to finish our 100-bed project as soon as possible.
Funding has been a major problem for Chakroborty. He has always relied on donations from the followers of his father Swami Saraswati,who are spread all over the country. However,now he has realized that individual donations would not be sufficient to finish the construction of this huge project so close to Kolkata.
He says,We are a not-for-profit organization. We employ so many staff members,doctors and then it becomes impossible for us to invest in the construction of this structure. Construction has got stuck since 2008,we require somewhere around Rs 10-12 crore but have managed only Rs 2 crore. We have not received any assistance from the state or from any government authorities.
Niladri Shekhar says: We have approached Help Age and various PSUs to help us in our endeavour. However,the response has not been very encouraging. We will manage to buy the surgical equipment from companies on installment basis,but construction requires immediate funding.
All these years I have single-handedly,with the blessings and ideals of my revered father,run this institution. However,now I have realized that without the support from gorporate houses or government sponsorships it is almost becoming impossible to keep serving humanity at such a low cost. We require urgent monetary assistance to keep up our good work,signs off Nandadulal Chakroborty.