Battlelines hardened Thursday in the snowballing agitation by doctors across West Bengal with Chief Minister and Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee turning up the heat on them. And a medical student, daughter of Banerjee’s powerful colleague Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim going public with her “shame” as a Trinamool supporter at “the inaction and silence of our leaders”. Full coverage in iebangla
Banerjee gave an ultimatum to agitating junior doctors saying that strong action would be taken against them if they do not get back to work promptly. But junior doctors and interns vowed to continue their “ceasework” until their demands for security were met. They have been on strike after angry relatives of a patient who died in the Nilratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital were joined by neighbours and local residents as they barged in and beat up doctors, injuring two of them.
On Thursday, violence erupted again as outsiders protested and pelted stones at agitating junior doctors at NRS Hospital and one of them received head injuries. Professor Saibal Kumar Mukherjee, principal of NRS Medical College and Hospital, and Professor Saurabh Chattopadhyay, medical superintendent and vice principal, resigned from their posts, citing “regret for being unable to overcome the crisis”.
Director of Medical Education Dr Pradip Kumar Mitra wrote to principal and directors of all medical college hospitals, telling them to resume work immediately. “You are requested to ensure resumption of normal patient care services in Out Patient Department and Emergencies immediately. Please issue order on the doctors to take up duty immediately to run these services. Action may be taken on those who will obstruct in discharging duties by the doctors in OPDs and Emergency.”
In a Facebook post Wednesday night, Shabba Hakim, student of KPC Medical College and daughter of Firhad Hakim who is also Mayor of Kolkata, voiced her strong support in favour of the strike by doctors. “For those who do not know, doctors in government and most private hospitals are boycotting OPD but are still working in emergency. Unlike other professions we can’t just decide not to work because at the end of the day we have humanity”, Shabba wrote.
“For those saying ‘Onno Rugider ki dosh?’ (What’s the fault of other patients?) Please question the government as in why the police officers posted in government hospitals do little to nothing to protect doctors? Please question them that when 2 truckload of goon(s) showed up why wasn’t back-up sent immediately? Please question why goons are still surrounding hospitals and beating up doctors? We have a right to peaceful protest.
“We have a right to safety at work. As a TMC supporter I am deeply ashamed at the inaction and the silence of our leaders,” she said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Shabba reiterated her stand. “Everyone has a right to safe work place and the right to protest. These are rights given to us by the Constitution. We are only upholding these rights”, she said. However, she refused to comment on the Chief Minister’s statement.
Her remarks assume significance as her father is considered very close to Banerjee. He is also state PWD minister and has been given charge of the party’s organisation in a number of districts after the debacle in Lok Sabha polls. He is regularly seen with the CM at most party and government meetings and events.
In fact, Firhad Hakim, in a series of tweets, condemned the protests saying: “Doctors are like God to the general masses. If gods stop working then how will we survive?”
Meanwhile, unannounced, Banerjee went to SSKM hospital at around noon and spoke with patients who were lying unattended. She visited OPD and the Emergency wings which were closed. Agitating junior doctors chanted slogans while she was there.
“Whatever happened was unfortunate but at times relatives of patients get agitated. We have taken action and police have arrested people. Our minister Chandrima Bhattacharya (MoS Health) visited them. Police Commissioner of Kolkata visited them. When I wanted to speak to them over phone they refused,” said Banerjee as agitating doctors waved placards demanding security.
“This cannot be tolerated. They will have to get back to work. Many policemen die on duty but do policemen go on strike? I give them four hours to join duty or action will be taken against them. I ask police to see that outsiders are not allowed in hostels. We will also withdraw government support (stipends) to interns if they do not join work. I saw patients waiting for treatment and some of them are critical,” said Banerjee.
She also blamed the BJP for giving the protests a communal colour. “This is conspiracy by a political party. There are outsiders fuelling the agitation. BJP is trying to bring in communal colour into this. Before the elections, there were police pickets at all hospitals but were withdrawn during the polls. We will once again put police pickets,” said Banerjee.
Later, authorities resumed emergency services at SSKM and at Burdwan Medical College Hospital under senior doctors and professors. However, in other state hospitals, OPD and other services remained shut for the second day. Meanwhile, as many as 11 senior doctors turned in their papers at the Sagar Dutta Medical College Hospital saying they couldn’t cope with work pressure and insecurity.
Banerjee’s remarks fuelled the anger. “Instead of holding a meeting with junior doctors, the CM has issued a statement of threat. It is shameful. Apart from our other demands, we also ask that the CM come to NRS and apologise. She is responsible for the present health care situation in Bengal,” said Kobiyul Haque, on behalf of Junior Doctors Unity, an association of junior doctors of government medical colleges.
Subsequently, a delegation of the group met Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi at Raj Bhawan and spoke with him for about an hour. He also appealed to them to resume work.
A statement from the Governor’s office said: “They have demanded adequate security and protection for the doctors in the hospitals, proper investigation and punishment for all those who attacked the junior doctors and redressal of their other grievances. The representatives stated that they will resume duties on receipt of firm and credible assurance of their security by the state government. Governor has appealed to them to resume their duties in the interest of the patients.”
(Full coverage in iebangla)