On day 5 of the “cease-work” by junior doctors in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appealed again for talks, and asked the doctors to return to hospitals.
In New Delhi, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an advisory to the West Bengal government to ensure the safety of doctors, and asked for a report on the standoff.
The Ministry issued a separate advisory on the political violence in the state, and sought a fresh report from the government in Kolkata.
“This Ministry is in receipt of a number of representations from doctors, health care professionals and medical associations from different parts of country for their safety and security in view of the ongoing strike by doctors in West Bengal. It is requested that a detailed report be sent urgently on the representations and ongoing strike by the doctors, “ the MHA said in its advisory.
The agitation was triggered by an attack on two doctors at Kolkata’s NRS Medical College and Hospital after a patient died. The situation escalated after the Chief Minister appeared to reject the concerns of the doctors, and described their protest as a BJP conspiracy.
The doctors have demanded an apology, and set six conditions that they say must be met for them to return to work. There have been a spate of resignations of senior doctors, while patients continue to suffer as the medical college hospitals remain crippled.
Doctors attached with the Health Department of Kolkata Municipal Corporation went on a day’s mass leave in solidarity with the striking doctors. Doctors across the country have expressed support for their colleagues in Kolkata.
Banerjee said Saturday that she had waited for hours at Nabanna, the state secretariat, to talk to the agitating junior doctors. The doctors, however, have been insistent that she should come to NRS for the meeting. Banerjee met a group of five senior doctors at Nabanna on Friday, who told her that they had failed to persuade the junior doctors to come for the meeting.
“I waited and waited,” Banerjee said. “Yesterday senior doctors came to me, and then I called the junior doctors for a meeting. I waited for hours. They said they will not come. Then a time was fixed today. I cancelled all my appointments and waited for them along with my officers. But they did not turn up. The state secretariat is the headquarters of the government, and the most apt place for talks,” she told reporters Saturday evening.
“I still appeal to them. Please resume work. We have taken all steps. If they want to talk to me or the Governor or any of my officers, they are welcome. We have fulfilled all of their demands. At every hospital a team of policemen has been placed for their security, headed by an assistant commissioner.
“We haven’t taken any action against the junior doctors. In other states like Odisha, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) was invoked, and doctors were arrested. We did not do that. We are a government with a human face.”
Banerjee said that Minister of State for Health Chandrima Bhattacharya had visited NRS Hospital the day after the incident. “When I called her, she said doctors don’t want to talk to me. When I went to SSKM Hospital the next day, while I was walking to the emergency (section), the junior doctors sitting there pushed me, and made wrong comments to me. I did not speak about this insult to anyone. I sent the Director of Medical Education (DME), I sent the Police Commissioner of Kolkata, who spent three hours at NRS. Police made prompt arrests and serious sections was slapped against the accused. What else can a government do? Thousands of patients are suffering. I have heard about deaths in Midnapore and Murshidabad without treatment,” she said.
Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi wrote to the Chief Minister Saturday, urging her to sit for a meeting with the doctors, and to take necessary steps for their security.
Earlier in the day, the junior doctors made it clear that they would not send a delegation to the secretariat, and that they wanted the Chief Minister to visit NRS.
“Yesterday, the DME verbally informed us that our Chief Minister had asked some of our representatives to meet her at her office. For the last two days, the CM has made offensive and inappropriate statements directed towards doctors. Following that, we faced mob attacks and physical assaults at various medical and dental colleges and hospitals. We are deeply upset and feel insecure and apprehensive about our representatives meeting her behind closed doors. That is why we are not sending any representative to her office,” the junior doctors said in a press note issued after an hourlong meeting.
“Right from the beginning, we are open to a healthy discussion to meet our demands. …We are deeply concerned about the suffering of common people… We shall resume our duties as soon as our demands are met. We will humbly request the CM to meet all of us at NRS Hospital and Medical College and discuss and implement all of our demands at the earliest,” said the statement.
Late on Saturday evening, the doctors issued another statement saying they welcomed Banerjee’s statement. “We don’t want this situation to continue. She has said that her government has accepted all our demands. But no representatives on our behalf went to meet her. So how come they know about our demands?”
“To her it has become an ego issue, but for us it is a fight for survival,” they said.
Banerjee also reacted strongly to the Home Ministry advisories, and said there was “no law and order problem” in West Bengal. “Our state is a peaceful state. Before sending advisory to us, first tell the Centre to send advisory to UP and Gujarat governments. How many persons have died in UP after Yogi’s government came to power? How many were killed in encounters? In Gujarat, they don’t let people file FIRs. First address these issues then talk about us.”
On the advisory on the doctors, she said: “In a democracy, strikes take place. People sometimes air their grievances through strikes. That does not mean every aspect of the state government is bad. They are sitting in Delhi but they don’t have to take care subjects like healthcare and education. The state government takes care these subjects.”
On the law and order advisory, a Home Ministry official said: “Centre has sought a report from the West Bengal government on measures taken to contain political violence and investigate such incidents of violence to bring culprits to book.” The advisory has pointed to the growing number of violent incidents and casualties from 2016 to 2019, and said that the “unabated violence over the years is evidently a matter of deep concern”.