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Mamata Banerjee reaches out but doctors term it eyewash

Thousands of doctors are protesting across the country over an incident in which three junior doctors at NRS Medical College in Kolkata were assaulted by the relatives of a patient who died during treatment on Monday.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2019 06:54 IST
HT Correspondents and Agencies
HT Correspondents and Agencies
Hindustan Times, Kolkata/New Delhi
Mamata Banerjee,West bengal,Bengal doctors' strike
Stirs and demonstrations by doctors continued across several states and Union Territories, prompting the ministry of home affairs to issue an advisory to the West Bengal government on the ongoing strike. (Photo @AITCOfficial /Twitter)

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee appealed to agitating doctors in the state to rejoin work and the Centre asked her government for a report into the matter, even as striking medical professionals said on Saturday they will continue their protest against attacks on doctors because there was “no honest initiative by the chief minister” to resolve the matter.

Thousands of doctors are protesting across the country over an incident in which three junior doctors at NRS Medical College in Kolkata were assaulted by the relatives of a patient who died during treatment on Monday.

Hours before Banerjee appeared to soften her stance on Saturday by assuring that the careers of the doctors “will not be hampered”, the striking junior doctors in West Bengal turned down the CM’s proposal for talks at the state secretariat. They demanded that Banerjee hold an open discussion at the hospital and not a “closed-door meeting”.

“We doubt the objectivity and safety of talks with a handful of our representatives behind closed doors. We want the chief minister to come to NRS (Medical College and Hospital) and hold talks with all of us,” a joint statement by the agitating doctors said.

Stirs and demonstrations by doctors continued across several states and Union Territories, prompting the ministry of home affairs to issue an advisory to the West Bengal government on the ongoing strike.

The advisory said: “This ministry is in receipt of a number of representations from doctors, health care professionals and medical associations from different parts of the 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.”

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan called for punitive action against those attacking health care professionals, saying “strict action must be taken against anyone who assaults them”.

Banerjee responded to the Union minister’s remark by saying that health was a state subject. “Ask him to look after health care in the country,” she said. On the Centre’s advisory, the CM said: “It is a routine affair. They keep sending these. Don’t pay too much attention to it.”

In Delhi, health care services were hit as doctors from various hospitals including the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, GB Pant Hospital and Lady Hardinge Medical College went on strike in solidarity with the agitating doctors in West Bengal. Emergency and ICU services, however, remained functional.

The Resident Doctors Association of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) called off its day-long strike but gave the West Bengal CM a 48-hour ultimatum to meet the demands of the protesting doctors in her state.

Doctors in West Bengal and other states took out protest marches and wore black bands and helmets to work. The Indian Medical Association has called for a nationwide strike on Monday, stepping up protests to demand better security at hospitals after the attack on doctors in Kolkata.

On Saturday evening, Banerjee said that the West Bengal government did not invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) even after five days of strike by the junior doctors and appealed to them to immediately rejoin service.

“We have the laws, but we do not want to use them.... We are not going to take any stringent action against any of the agitating junior doctors and hamper their career,” she said in what can be seen as a climbdown at a news briefing after the agitating doctors refused to visit the secretariat for talks at 5 pm.

The chief minister said that the state government had accepted all the demands of the doctors and was ready to accept more, but she added that they must resume work. “On Friday, I waited for the junior doctors for five hours. And today, I cancelled all my programmes for them. You must show some respect to the constitutional body,” she said.

Responding to Banerjee’s remarks, Archisman Bhattacharya, a representative of the agitating junior doctors said: “At the press conference, she tried to divert people’s attention from the real issue. We are compelled to continue with the agitation.”

Banerjee cited instances of steps taken against doctors in similar situations by other states, adding that the West Bengal government had not taken any tough action against them as she did not want to hamper their careers.

The West Bengal CM was criticised on Friday after saying that those living in her state will have to learn to speak in Bengali. She said that outsiders were instigating the doctors’ strike.

Among the demands of the protesters are an unconditional apology by the CM, a personal visit by her to the injured doctors, a condemnation of Monday’s attack, and a judicial inquiry into alleged police inaction against the assailants.

At least one death, that of a child who could not be admitted to a government hospital, was reported on Friday amid the strike. The family of a three-year-old alleged that he died because of the lack of medical aid on Saturday, but doctors denied the charge.

The CM met five prominent doctors and her office invited four representatives of the doctors from NRS Medical College on Friday to the state secretariat for discussion but the offer was turned down.

On the mass resignation of the doctors across the state, Banerjee said on Saturday that they were not legally tenable. “If the junior doctors think I am incapable, they can always talk to the governor or the chief secretary... or the commissioner of police,” she said.

West Bengal governor Keshari Nath Tripathi wrote to Banerjee and advised her to take immediate steps to provide security to the doctors and find a solution to the impasse. Banerjee later said she spoke to the governor and apprised him about the steps taken by the state government to break the deadlock.

First Published: Jun 15, 2019 23:55 IST