Striking junior doctors across West Bengal on Thursday (June 13) refused to end their stir until they were provided adequate security in government hospitals and defied a deadline set by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who alleged that opposition BJP and CPI (M) were instigating the protesters as part of a “conspiracy” and giving a communal colour to the issue.
The India Medical Association (IMA) has declared ‘All India Protest Day’ on Friday (June 14) against the incident. Doctors in Delhi and Mumbai on Friday staged similar protests in solidarity with their counterparts in Kolkata. According to an India Today report, doctor of AIIMs in New Delhi on Thursday wore bandages on their heads and helmets as a sign of protest.
Healthcare services at private and government hospitals in the national capital are likely to be affected on Friday with scores of doctors deciding to boycott work for a day. Twitter has been trending with the hashtag #SaveTheDoctors with many from the community coming together to demand security for doctors on hospital campuses.
“A mob assaulted doctors on duty at a hospital in West Bengal. When a targeted attack like this happens, it becomes a law and order issues. Today, we are doing a silent protest over the incident,” ANI quoted Prashant Choudhary, president of MARD, Sion Hospital, Mumbai as saying at a sit-in on Friday.
In Kolkata, health services have been affected over the past three days in emergency wards, outpatient facilities and pathological units of many state-run medical colleges and hospitals and a large number of private medical facilities in the state due to the strike by doctors who are protesting after two of their colleagues were attacked and seriously injured at the NRS Medical College and Hospital here by a mob following the death of a patient.
The opposition attacked Banerjee over the impasse, with the BJP accusing her of acting as ‘Hitler’. There was high drama as the chief minister reached the state-run SSKM hospital in Kolkata at around noon amid slogans of “we want justice” by the doctors. “I condemn the agitation. The junior doctors’ strike is a conspiracy by the CPI (M) and the BJP,” Banerjee, who also holds the health and family welfare portfolio, said and directed the police to clear the premises and only allow patients to stay.
Stating that patients were suffering, she gave the doctors a four-hour deadline to rejoin service, but later revised it to 2 pm. Warning of strict action against those who do not resume work, she said they will have to vacate hostels.
Despite Banerjees ultimatum, the agitating doctors continued their stir. A joint platform of doctors met Governor K N Tripathi, who appealed them to resume duties. “We will continue with our agitation till our demands are fulfilled. Our demands are simple… proper security with armed policemen at all hospitals, arrest of culprits involved in the NRS attack on Saturday under non-bailable sections. We did not expect the chief minister to say what she did,” a member of the delegation said.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief, however alleged that outsiders had entered medical colleges and hospitals to create disturbance and that she was “abused” by the doctors at the hospital. “The BJP, with help from the CPI(M), is indulging in Hindu-Muslim politics. I am shocked to see their love affair,” Banerjee said and alleged “BJP chief Amit Shah is encouraging his party cadre to create communal tension and run a propaganda on Facebook.”
The TMC and the BJP are locked in a bitter turf war in West Bengal, which has been rocked by post-poll violence, with Banerjee accusing the saffron party of trying to foment trouble in the state to topple her government. The BJP has claimed that Banerjee is targeting it as she is rattled by its major gains in Lok Sabha elections.
In a Facebook post, the chief minister highlighted the plight of patients in hospitals due to the ongoing strike and claimed the government was cooperating with doctors. She described the injuries sustained by the two junior doctors at NRS Medical College and Hospital as “unfortunate”.
Five persons have been arrested in connection with the incident, Banerjee said, adding that an inquiry has also been ordered to look into complaint of negligence during treatment, resulting in the death of the patient. “Cancer patients, kidney patients, accident victims, even children coming from distant places are suffering for not getting treatment,” she said.
Banerjee also wrote to senior doctors of all medical colleges and hospitals in the state and requested them to continue taking care of patients. The opposition parties slammed the CM for her alleged “threats” to agitating doctors and sought her immediate resignation as the health minister. BJP leader Mukul Roy alleged Banerjee has become authoritarian and is behaving like “Hitler”.
Accusing the TMC supremo of politicizing the issue, CPI (M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty said Banerjee does not seem interested in ending the impasse. State Congress president Somen Mitra also criticised the chief minister and said the state government should take appropriate measure to ensure safety and security of doctors.
NRS Medical College and Hospital principal Saibal Mukherjee and medical Superintendent cum vice-principal Prof Saurabh Chattopadhyaya have resigned for “failing to overcome the crisis” at the medical institution.
Union heath minister Harsh Vardhan condemned the violence against doctors in Kolkata and urged patients and their attendants to exercise restraint. He said he will take up the matter of doctors’ security with all chief ministers and asked the doctors to ensure that essential services to the people are not disrupted.
(With inputs from agencies)