Leader of Opposition in Gujarat Assembly, Paresh Dhanani, was detained by the police on Sunday after he sat on a hunger strike on the premises of Shantabaa Medical College and General Hospital (SMCGH) in Amreli town, demanding that the state government set up a laboratory for the testing of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in the district.
Dhanani put up a banner on the fencing near the main entrance of the hospital and sat on a mat spread on the ground at around 9 am. On the banner, Dhanani, MLA from Amreli Assembly constituency, alleged that the state government was meting out step-motherly treatment to his native Amreli district in the fight against Covid-19.
Apart from a modern, well-equipped RT-PCR laboratory in Amreli, Dhanani also demanded that the daily sample testing rate in the district be increased and that Covid-19 hospitals be set up in Amreli, Savarkundal and Rajula towns with ventilator facilities and cumulative capacity of 500 beds.
Minutes later, a team of Amreli town police reached the spot and asked Dhanani to end his strike and accompany them to a waiting bus. Dhanani refused to cooperate, claiming that staging protest was his right and that since he was sitting on a hunger strike alone, no permission from the authority was required. He told policemen that he was merely exercising his right to peaceful protest and was not violating any law.
When the Congress leader refused to budge, police forced him into a waiting bus and took him to Amreli town police station.
“People of Amreli are dying day by day but the government is not setting up a Covid-19 testing laboratory that would cost just Rs 65 lakh. During elections, it gave away hospital worth Rs 400 crore for free. In the time of pandemic, people have to go Bhavnagar for testing,” Dhanani told reporters later, referring to the state government handing over Amreli district hospital to Gajera Trust, an NGO, in 2017 for upgrading it and also setting up a medical college on public-private partnership mode.
The dedicated Covid-19 hospital set up in SMCGS doesn’t have the facility to test for the virus. Hence, samples collected in Amreli are sent to Bhavnagar for testing. On an average, it takes a day for results to arrive.
Dhanani said a laboratory was needed as flow of people from Surat to their native places was still on. “From Surat, patients and not passengers, are landing in Amreli. A Covid-19 testing laboratory should be set up immediately in Amreli, testing be ramped up and hospital beds also should be increased,” he said.
Amreli town police inspector KB Jadeja said, “For staging a protest, one has to seek prior permission from the competent authority. After we came to know that he was staging a token hunger strike from 9 am to 12 noon, we went there and asked him to show the permission letter… But he didn’t have any permission letter. Therefore, we detained him and brought him to the police station,” Jadeja told The Indian Express, adding the Congress leader was released around 12.15 pm.
As of Sunday, the Covid-19 tally in Amreli stood at 152 with 11 deaths. Thousands of people from Amreli who live in Surat have been returning home due to shops and factories being closed.
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