Around 500 doctors working at private and government hospitals in and around Kolkata took out a rally in the city on Tuesday, demanding withdrawal of the suspension order of senior physician Arunachal Dutta Chowdhury. Chowdhury, posted at Barasat District Hospital, had been suspended after putting out a Facebook post complaining about alleged “pressure” from the government, even as the state faces a dengue outbreak. The protesters marched from Central Park in Salt Lake to Swasthya Bhawan, the administrative headquarters of the state health department, saying the suspension order was a violation of the constitutional right allowing free speech.
The protesters were stopped by Bidhannagar Police about 500 meters away from Swasthya Bhawan. They crossed one of the two barricades set up by police, but were stopped before crossing the other. “We took out the rally, led by seven different organisations of medical practitioners, demanding withdrawal of the suspension order of Dr Arunachal. We didn’t want a tussle, as we are law-abiding people. We will be sending a memorandum to the Director of Health and Services through post,” said Ansuman Mitra Biswas, secretary of Medical Service Centre Forum, one of the seven unions that participated in the protest. Read | Bengal doctor suspended for Facebook post on govt ‘pressure’
“Superintendent of North Bengal Medical College and Hospital Dr Anup Roy too was suspended at a time when the state was badly hit by Japanese Encephalitis, because he too had spoken about poor infrastructure. Why should government decide what we speak, say or write?” said a doctor at the rally.
Another doctor questioned the basis for the suspension order, saying: “When ministers and all other administration officials are allowed to use social media, why can’t doctors do the same? We speak for the people, they are dying like anything. Lives are being affected, and the government is busy hushing up the facts. We want the government to roll back the suspension order. They should take adequate measures to combat dengue, rather than suppressing it. This type of policy would worsen the situation next year.
Unfortunately, preventative planning, manpower scarcity all together will increase casualties next year. Rather than victimising doctors, they should ensure proper treatment.” The doctors claimed nothing would change unless the government improves the state infrastructure.
“Government can’t suspend doctors for something they [the government] should be blamed for,” said another protester. Chowdhury’s Facebook post attracted several comments, with other doctors sharing their stories about working in a government setup and dealing with the vector-borne disease. The suspension letter sent to Chowdhury said his post was “derogatory” to the hospital in particular and the government in general. The post had unverified statistics to mislead the public, it said.