Hours after the Calcutta High Court refused to pass any interim order on the strike by junior doctors at state-run hospitals and asked the West Bengal government to persuade them to resume work and restore healthcare services, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met a group of doctors at the state secretariat Nabanna Friday. She also invited protesting students but they didn’t turn up. Following talks, a meeting with them is now being called at 5 pm Saturday.
Banerjee sent Dr Pradip Mitra, Director of Medical Education, to NRS Medical College and Hospital, where the June 10 attack on doctors sparked the protests, after the crisis deepened and hundreds of senior doctors of different medical colleges and hospitals submitted resignations en masse to the health department. Follow West Bengal doctors’ protest LIVE Updates
The standoff snowballed with doctors in several states starting protests in a show of solidarity and the Indian Medical Association calling a nationwide strike on June 17. Earlier in the day, the Calcutta High Court directed the government to apprise it of the steps taken following the attack on junior doctors at the NRSMCH.
Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan too wrote to Mamata Banerjee, advising “better communication and a compassionate approach”.
“It is a matter of concern that the agitation by doctors in West Bengal is not heading towards resolution, but seems to be getting aggravated. Better communication with doctors and a compassionate approach to take care of the genuine problems being faced by them in day-to-day functioning would definitely be helpful in tiding over the crisis which has been created,” he said in his letter.
He later tweeted, calling for stringent punishment to those who attack doctors: “Heinous repeated attacks on doctors across India esp W Bengal have led to this situation. Govt must pass a Law to make any attack on Docs a non-bailable offence with min 12 yr jail. Draconian Clinical Establishment Act that treats Docs as criminals must be withdrawn.”
In the evening, state Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi visited the injured doctor Paribaha Mukherjee — he was attacked on June 10 by the family of a patient who died — at the Institute of Neurosciences Kolkata (INK). Tripathi later told reporters: “I have tried to contact the CM, I have called her. Till this moment, there is no response from her. If she calls, we will discuss the matter.”
Earlier, as filmmaker Aparna Sen and other leading figures joined the protesting doctors to extend solidarity and urged the Chief Minister to “come once, listen to their grievance with patience”, Banerjee continued to talk tough. “Outsiders are instigating the doctors. I had rightly said that they were involved in yesterday’s protest. I had seen some outsiders raising slogans (at SSKM Hospital). I am not saying all were outsiders. There were insiders and outsiders as well,” she told a public meeting in Kanchrapara, North 24 Parganas.
But her party leader and Bidhannagar mayor Sabyasachi Dutta came out in support of the protesters and said a dialogue alone could resolve the issue.
“A lot of private hospital doctors have joined the protest. There is nothing wrong in apologising before our students. If they ask me, I will bow down and apologise. I believe there is need for dialogue as early as possible. Yesterday Minister Firhad Hakim’s daughter came out in support, today Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar’s son has supported the doctors. There is serious need to resolve the issue,” Dutta told reporters.
Doctors have laid down conditions to resume work. These include:
* Urgent intervention of Chief Minister in the matter, interaction with the agitating students at NRSMCH followed by a detailed statement from her office condemning the events that took place on June 10 and withdrawal of her remarks at the SSKM Hospital on June 13.
* Documentary evidence and other details of action (those arrested, names, identification, date of arrest and sections applied) and list of suspects made by police against all involved in the violence against doctors on June 10.
* Documentary evidence of judicial enquiry against police failure to provide protection to doctors at NRSMCH, Burdwan Medical College and Hospital and other medical colleges and hospitals. * Unconditional withdrawal of all cases and charges slapped on doctors and medical students across West Bengal.
Meanwhile, the IMA, in a statement, said: “Past few days have seen violence on doctors and hospitals in many states. The gruesome incident in NRS Medical College, Kolkata is of barbaric nature. Dr Paribaha Mukherjee who was brutally attacked is critical and fighting for his life. IMA condemns the violence perpetrated on a young doctor. Entire medical fraternity expresses our solidarity with the residents who are on strike. Our national president, Dr Santanu Sen, has visited all the medical colleges in Kolkata and has been in touch with the government and police which has led to the arrest of four culprits in this regard.”