Extortion threats from tribal militants have forced dozens of government doctors to flee their areas of posting in western Assam, leaving hundreds of patients at the mercy of paramedics.
A government spokesperson said at least 30 doctors posted at the civil hospital in tribal Bodo-dominated western district of Kokrajhar fled en masse after unidentified militants slapped extortion demands over telephone.
“Over the last one week, almost all the doctors have received telephone calls asking them to pay Rs.100,000 each or else face dire consequences. Fearing for our lives, we decided to leave Kokrajhar for our safety or else who knows we might be killed,” a doctor, who was among those who fled Kokrajhar, told IANS requesting not to be named.
At least five doctors working at the nearby civil hospital in the Gossaigaon sub-division also fled the area following similar extortion demands.
Authorities assured personal security guards to each of the doctors, but they refused to stay put fearing for their lives.
Meanwhile, hundreds of outdoor patients, including several of them admitted to hospitals, were forced to get treatment from paramedics in the absence of doctors.
“We have hired some retired doctors and a few specialists from Guwahati Medical College have also been drafted to deal with the situation. We are trying our best to deal with the situation,” Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.
Police are clueless yet about which militant group was involved in threatening the doctors to cough up Rs.100,000 each.
Two of the active rebel groups, rival factions of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), denied their involvement in the extortion threats.
“This is really an unfortunate incident and we condemn anyone indulging in such acts of extortion or threats,” said Lawerence Islary, a leader of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU).
Several serious patients admitted to hospitals here are having a tough time. “We are simply helpless and don’t know what to do and where to go now,” said A Brahma, whose wife is expecting a baby.