The West Bengal government has suspended a doctor employed with the Barasat district hospital after he put out a Facebook post complaining about the alleged “pressure” from the government even as the state faces a dengue outbreak.
The October 8 post in Bengali by Dr Arunachal Dutta Choudhury, a chest physician in the general medicine department of the government hospital in North 24 Parganas district, reads, “October 6 was my admission (duty) day. From 9 am that day to 9 am the next day, I was responsible for patient admissions, referrals and even death. After spending 24 hours (on duty), what will my condition be?
“Every patient was suffering from fever. Many of them had blood reports stating that they had dengue… But doctors couldn’t attend to them as there were around 500 patients… District health authorities have been saying that the hospital has all necessary arrangements (to tackle dengue). But the hospital management is helpless. There is an unwritten instruction to hide the fact that the hospital lacks necessary facilities. Or else, there will be pressure.”
He tagged two pictures with the post – one that showed a white board with details of the number of patients and staff in the ward and another, according to which 250 patients were admitted under Choudhury and three nurses assigned to assist him.
The post attracted several comments, with other doctors sharing their stories about working in government hospitals and dealing with the vector-borne disease.
On Friday, November 10, the state health department initiated an inquiry against Choudhury and sent him a suspension letter, which called his post “derogatory” and with “unverified and misleading statistics”.
When contacted, Choudhury said, “I joined the government service in 1983. I am approaching 63, the patient burden on me was too much. People are looking at it as suspension, but I am relieved to get such a holiday… I am a government servant and have to abide by their order,” he said. Calling himself a “poet”, Choudhury went on to say, “Now I will only share romantic poems on social media because they won’t offend anyone.”
While Minister of State for Health Chandrima Bhattacharya refused to comment, Director of Health Services Biswaranjan Satpathy was unreachable on phone. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee holds the Health portfolio.
Reacting to the doctor’s suspension, BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha told The Sunday Express, “Dr Dutta must appeal in the High Court. There is no democracy left in Bengal. The way the government is trying to maintain secrecy proves its failure in controlling dengue.”
The recent dengue outbreak has become a political issue in the state, with the CPM and the BJP criticising the government for its alleged inability to fight the menace.
While higher officials of the state health department confirmed at least 40 deaths to The Indian Express, two days later, on October 30, the Chief Minister said only 13 of these were confirmed dengue deaths. According to government officials, over 2,000 people across the state have been diagnosed with dengue since January.
Calling Choudhury’s suspension an assault on the freedom of speech and expression, a group of associations representing doctors has written to Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, seeking the withdrawal of the doctor’s suspension. “He was one of the physicians leading the fight against… dengue and other febrile illnesses in… North 24 Parganas…” the letter read.
Over the last few months, at least seven people across Bengal have faced action over their Facebook posts.
Last month, two people – businessman Debojit Roy and bank employee Anupam Tarafdar – were arrested in Balurghat town for their Facebook posts, in which they critisised police and administration for imposing traffic restrictions during Durga puja.
In July this year, a teenager’s Facebook had triggered riots in West Bengal’s Basirhat subdivision, following which two minors were arrested. The same month, one Tarun Sengupta was arrested for allegedly uploading a fake video of a Muslim police officer beating a Hindu man.
BJP leader Nupur Sharma and RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha too were recently booked by the Kolkata Police for their allegedly “objectionable” Facebook posts.