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Mamata vs striking doctors: West Bengal crisis deepens as protest spread to other states


The standoff in West Bengal hospitals over an attack on doctors snowballed Friday as doctors in several states began protests in solidarity with their agitating colleagues, and the Indian Medical Association announced a nationwide strike on June 17.

In West Bengal, the crisis deepened as hundreds of senior doctors of different medical colleges and hospitals submitted resignations en masse to the health department but these were not accepted.

The Calcutta High Court refused to pass any interim order on the strike by junior doctors at state-run hospitals and asked the Mamata Banerjee government to persuade the protesting doctors to resume work and restore healthcare services. It directed the government to apprise it of the steps taken following the attack on junior doctors at the NRS Medical College and Hospital.

Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan wrote to Mamata Banerjee, advising “better communication and a compassionate approach”.

“It is a matter of concern that the agitation by doctors in West Bengal is not heading towards resolution, but seems to be getting aggravated. Better communication with doctors and a compassionate approach to take care of the genuine problems being faced by them in day-to-day functioning would definitely be helpful in tiding over the crisis which has been created,” he said in his letter.

“They work for long hours under stressful conditions, grappling with a huge load of patients. It is our duty to provide good working conditions and a secure environment to them. Strong action against any person who assaults them must be ensured by the law enforcement agencies. At the same time, doctors must also be oriented towards treating patients with courtesy and exhibiting compassion in their interactions. I take this opportunity to urge upon you to personally intervene in resolving the current impasse and taking steps to provide a secure working environment to doctors in the state of West Bengal,” he said.

As filmmaker Aparna Sen and other leading figures joined the protest to express solidarity with the doctors and urged the Chief Minister to “come once, listen to their grievance with patience”, Banerjee continued to talk tough. “Outsiders are instigating the doctors. I had rightly said that they were involved in yesterday’s protest. I had seen some outsiders raising slogans (at SSKM Hospital). I am not saying all were outsiders. There were insiders and outsiders as well,” she told a public meeting in Kanchrapara, North 24 Parganas.

The faculty of NRS, Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, Sagar Dutta Medical College, Calcutta Medical College, R G Kar, National Medical College, SSKM, Burdwan Medical College are among those who submitted their resignation.

A mass resignation letter by the faculty of the NRS Medical College and Hospital stated: “The ongoing sufferings of junior doctors and patients, which are yet to be addressed, is putting us in great pain. Any effective patient care related services cannot be delivered with in-service doctors in the absence of support from junior doctors.”

“Various reports from different state hospitals about physical assaults and threats to doctors and medical students are putting us in a state of insecurity and we are apprehending similar incidents towards us in NRSMCH premises. In view of the circumstance and due to current shortage of manpower, we will not be able to render any effective service to the huge number of patients and, therefore, we are resigning from our services, with immediate effect,” their letter stated.

As doctors demanded that the Chief Minister withdraw remarks made during her visit to the SSKM Hospital, TMC leader and Bidhannagar mayor Sabyasachi Dutta also came out in support of the protesters and said a dialogue alone will resolve the issue.

“A lot of private hospital doctors have joined the protest. There is nothing wrong in apologising before our students. If they ask me, I will bow down and apologise. I believe there is need for dialogue as early as possible. Yesterday Minister Firhad Hakim’s daughter came out in support, today Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar’s son has supported the doctors. There is serious need to resolve the issue,” Dutta told reporters.

Doctors have laid down conditions to resume work. These include:
* Urgent intervention of chief minister in the matter, interaction with the agitating students at NRSMCH followed by a detailed statement from her office condemning the events that took place on June 10 and withdrawal of her remarks at the SSKM Hospital on June 13.
* Documentary evidence and other details of action (arrested, names, identification, date of arrest and sections applied) and list of suspects made by police against all involved in the violence against doctors on June 10.
* Documentary evidence of judicial enquiry against police failure to provide protection to doctors at NRSMCH, Burdwan Medical College and Hospital and other medical colleges and hospitals.
* Unconditional withdrawal of all cases and charges slapped on doctors and medical students across West Bengal.

Meanwhile, the IMA, in a statement, said: “Past few days have seen violence on doctors and hospitals in many states. The gruesome incident in NRS Medical College, Kolkata is of barbaric nature. Dr Paribaha Mukherjee who was brutally attacked is critical and fighting for his life. IMA condemns the violence perpetrated on a young doctor. Entire medical fraternity expresses our solidarity with the residents who are on strike. Our national president, Dr Santanu Sen, has visited all the medical colleges in Kolkata and has been in touch with the government and police which has led to the arrest of four culprits in this regard.”

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