A student couple returns to guru with ₹340Cr aid to set up cancer facility

The couple’s unprecedented act of charity rekindles hopes among many cancer patients of Odisha

Sushmita & Subroto Bagchi

Over four-and-a-half decades ago, he had surprised his teacher Shyamsunder Agrawalla at Bhubaneswar’s BJB College by his brilliance. Last week, Agrawalla was overjoyed when his ex-student, software major Mindtree’s co-founder and chairman of Odisha Skill Development Authority, Subroto Bagchi, along with his wife Susmita (also a student of Agrawalla) pledged to donate ₹340 crore for setting up a ‘state of the art’ cancer facility and palliative care centre in Bhubaneswar.

“Generally, students feel proud of their teachers. In my case, I feel myself fortunate that he was in my classroom. Brilliant in studies and extracurricular activities, Subroto was simply an exception,” says Agrawalla.

Subroto had against the advice of his contemporaries chosen “not to be in the rat race for civil services” and opted for a different career. “That he returned to his roots to give it back to the society he grew up in after achieving everything in life, is a rare example only Subroto can set. I wish him all success,” says Agrawalla.

The state is abuzz with couple’s unprecedented act of charity. For many Subroto Bagchi is the Warren Buffet and for others, the Azim Premji of Odisha.

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From being a clerk in Odisha government’s industries department to rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of global corporate leaders, Subroto has worked hard. He has also made his mark as an acclaimed author, motivational speaker, management guru and philanthropist.

Meanwhile, a couple of MoUs have been inked in the presence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. One was for the Bagchi-Sri Shankar Cancer Centre and Research Institute by the state government, Susmita Bagchi and Shri Shankar Cancer Foundation. The other is for Bagchi-Karunashraya palliative care centre by the state government’s Susmita Bagchi and Karunashraya Hospice Trust. The trust will train local doctors, health care providers and care-givers on palliative care.

Underlining the significance of service to the society, Naveen quoting Rabindranath Tagore said, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

He also assured his support to the initiative. Naveen said the state government will extend all support to make these centres operational by January 2024. The state government will provide 20 acres of land for the projects.

On Naveen’s invitation Subroto Bagchi took on the full-time role of chairman, Odisha Skill Development Authority in the rank and status of a cabinet minister at an annual salary of ₹1 in 2016.

Last year, his unique style of presentation, articulation and usage of idioms during the daily briefings as the state’s chief spokesperson on COVID-19 made him a popular figure. Susmita, a celebrated writer with a huge fan following in the state, is the chairperson of the Mo School Abhijan, an initiative to collaborate, connect and contribute for education of Odisha under school and mass education department.

Initially, the cancer facility will have 250 beds, which will be expanded to a 500-bed hospital. While 25 per cent of beds will be set aside for free treatment, another 25 per cent will be kept for patients supported under different government health schemes. The rest of the beds will be paid ones.

The palliative care centre will be equipped with 100 beds which will later be expanded. It will offer holistic palliative care along with pain clinic, aseptic procedures, end of life care with empathy and death with dignity. All of beds shall receive free services.

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“It’s a unique model,” said Dr Lalatendu Sarangi, director of Odisha’s premier cancer care facility, the state run, Acharya Harihar Post Graduate Institute of Cancer (AHPGIC), Cuttack. Terming it as a big step forward, he exuded confidence that cancer care in Odisha will witness a sea change as the new initiative will bring in the most advanced technology and global expertise.

“It will be a new landmark in cancer care. The Bagchis deserve a salute from all of us for their unprecedented gesture,” said Dr. Sarangi.

According to leading oncologist Dr. Ghanashyam Biswas of Bhubaneswar-based Sparsh hospital, apart from the local patients, the existing facilities in Odisha cater to patients from bordering West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. In Odisha alone, around 50,000 new cases are detected annually, which according to Dr. Biswas, is ‘only the tip of the iceberg’. “That’s because, we lack awareness and don’t have structured screening programs; the patient reaches us at an advanced stage.”

Though oncologists agree that cancer care infrastructure in Odisha has improved over the last few years, with more and more cases coming to light the government would require more infrastructure to meet the demand in the next few years. “Both the new hospital and the palliative care centre will redefine cancer treatment and care in the state,” hoped Dr Biswas. He thought many more well-meaning people, including non- resident Odia’s will follow in the couple’s footsteps and contribute to the betterment of the people of their state.

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Meanwhile, Bagchis’ efforts have led to hopes among family members of affected patients. “If things go well, I will get my father to the new hospital for treatment,” said a primary school teacher from Angul while accompanying her septuagenarian father diagnosed with lung cancer last year. She learned about the projects from newspapers. “God bless the couple for such a wonderful gesture,” she said.

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