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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 27 New Delhi June 22, 2019

On the Medicos’ Strike in Bengal

Monday 24 June 2019


The week-long strike of the junior doctors in West Bengal, which brought the entire public health care system to a grinding halt, causing untold misery to the suffering public, was called off after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee personally intervened in the situation to break the deadlock. The students relented and did not insist on the CM personally coming and apologising to them at the NRS Medical College and Hospital where the trouble started after some relations of a patient who had died in the hospital assaulted the doctors.

During the interaction, the doctors behaved with considerable humility, restraint and respect, while the CM, rather uncharacteristically, heard them out patiently, sometimes intervened to assure the medicos that their security would be ensured, sometimes turning to the police and administrative officials to note the doctors’ complaints and take necessary remedial measures. A group of senior doctors and bureaucrats worked tirelessly behind-the-scenes to break the ice and bring the two sides to the table.

Mamata has assured protection from physical violence to the students. That is welcome. But the causes of violence lie deeper. As one junior doctor after another explained to her, there was an appalling lack of infrastructure, diagnostic instruments, medicines and inadequate staff—doctors, nurses, ward boys. The CM has opened one medical college after another, one super-speciality hospital after another without providing the necessary infrastructural facilities. Physical protection of the doctors will not remove these inadequacies and the possibility of relatives of patients venting their anger on the medicos will always be there unless the root cause is tackled.

The doctors’ strike came as a blessing to the detractors of the Chief Minister and her party. The cry was raised that medical services in the State had collapsed and together with the recurrent post-poll violence, West Bengal was slipping into anarchy. The Centre was urged to intervene and bring the State under President’s Rule. Even the CPI-M went to the Governor to complain about the violence, knowing full well that they were, in effect, making a case for Central intervention bringing the State under BJP rule.

The State BJP leaders, of course, were loudly demanding PR in West Bengal, forgetting that in the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, hundreds of children had died of encephalitis as in Bihar or due to lack of oxygen as in Uttar Pradesh, but the party remained mum. Imposition of PR in those States was not demanded. Rather every effort was made to absolve the CMs of the two State governments and pass the blame on to some doctors and suppliers of oxygen cylinders. Obviously, the clamour for dismissing the TMC Government in West Bengal was politically motivated.

West Bengal provides free medical treatment to patients, both indoor and outdoor. This brings a large number of patients from neighbouring States like Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha. The pressure on doctors on duty at the outdoor departments of the government hospitals can be imagined easily. The pressure is compounded by other inadequacies noted above. These inadequacies cannot be removed overnight, even if the Centre takes over the State. These can be overcome only in course of time.

Even if belatedly, Mamata has taken the first step to stem the rot in the medical system of the State. This is noteworthy, to say the least.

June 20 B.D.G.

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