Stalemate Continues as Protesting Bengal Doctors Refuse to Meet Mamata, Seek Unconditional Apology
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan urged the West Bengal chief minister to refrain from turning the matter into a 'prestige issue' and ensure an 'amicable end' to the protests.
Junior doctors during a protest at NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata on Friday. (PTI)
New Delhi: Agitating junior doctors on Friday refused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s invitation at the state secretariat for talks, instead asking her to come and meet them at the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata where they have been staging a four-day-long stir. The protests have disrupted healthcare services in West Bengal and across the country.
Stating that it was a ploy to break up their agitation, one of the doctors said, “She (Banerjee) is the guardian of the state and should come here. We are ready for talks and we are ready to find a solution.”
The agitation started after two junior doctors were assaulted on Monday night by family members of a patient who died at the NRS Hospital over alleged negligence. One of them, Dr Paribaha Mukhopadhyay, was critically injured and has been undergoing treatment at Kolkata's Institute of Neurosciences. He is now said to be in a stable condition.
West Bengal Director of Medical Education Pradip Mitra, who met the agitating doctors at NRS College, conveyed Banerjee's invite. But the doctors sought an unconditional apology from the chief minister and set out six terms before the state government.
“We want an unconditional apology from the chief minister for the manner in which she had addressed us at the SSKM Hospital on Thursday,” said Dr Arindam Dutta, spokesperson of the joint forum of junior doctors.
Banerjee on Thursday had claimed that “outsiders”, who had entered medical colleges to create disturbances, were to blame. She had also accused the CPI(M) and the BJP of a "conspiracy". Banerjee had then issued a four-hour ultimatum to the doctors to withdraw their stir, failing which she had ordered them to vacate their hostel quarters.
Listing out the six conditions, the protestors said Banerjee will have to visit the injured doctors at the hospital and her office should release a statement condemning the attack on them.
“We also want the immediate intervention of the chief minister. Documentary evidence of judicial inquiry against the inactivity of police to provide protection to the doctors at Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital on Monday night should also be provided,” said Dutta. “We demand documentary evidence and details of action taken against those who had attacked us."
The group demanded unconditional withdrawal of all “false cases and charges” filed against junior doctors and medical students across West Bengal in the wake of their strike. They also sought an improvement in infrastructure in all health facilities as well as posting of armed police personnel there.
Resignations en masse
Amid the ongoing strike, more than 100 senior doctors of various state-run hospitals across West Bengal resigned from their services on Friday. The move came a day after NRS Medical College and Hospital Principal Saibal Mukherjee and Vice-principal Sourav Chatterjee put in their papers.
Actor-filmmaker Aparna Sen, who met the doctors at the NRS Medical College and Hospital on Friday, urged the chief minister to hear out their grievances patiently and apologise for her earlier behaviour.
West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi on Friday said he had called up Banerjee to discuss the situation but had received no response. Tripathi also paid a visit to the injured junior doctor.
“I have tried to contact the chief minister. I have called her up. Till this moment there is no response from her. If she calls me, we will discuss the matter," he said.
A team of BJP leaders, including renowned fashion designer Agnimitra Paul, met Tripathi and sought Banerjee's resignation as chief minister and state health minister.
“The governor should talk to the chief minister immediately and exercise his power as constitutional head of the state to resolve the impasse and restore peace,” senior BJP leader Mukul Roy said, describing it as an "Emergency-like situation".
Earlier in the day, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan urged Banerjee not to make this sensitive matter a "prestige issue" and ensure an "amicable end" to the stir.
In a letter to Banerjee, Vardhan requested that the doctors be provided a secure working environment. He also appealed to the agitating doctors, particularly in West Bengal, to hold symbolic protests and resume work so that patients do not suffer.
Vardhan expressed support for the medical fraternity's demand for a central law to check violence against health care workers in hospitals, adding that such crimes should be made non-bailable.
Heinous repeated attacks on doctors across India esp WBengal have led to this situation.Govt must pass a Law to make any attack on Docs a non-bailable offence with min 12 yr jail. Draconian Clinical Establishment Act that treats Docs as criminals must be withdrawn @drharshvardhan pic.twitter.com/DPwV9sTb2j— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) June 14, 2019
Nationwide stir on June 17
Vardhan's tweet came hours after the Indian Medical Association (IMA) launched a four-day nationwide protest from Friday and wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah demanding enactment of a central law to check violence against health care workers in hospitals.
Condemning any form of violence against medical professionals, the apex body of doctors said its protest will continue on Saturday and Sunday as well, which will include wearing black badges, dharnas and peace marches. The IMA has called for a nationwide strike on June 17, which will involve withdrawal of non-essential health services. The IMA said all non-essential services, including OPDs, will be withdrawn for 24 hours from 6am on June 17, while emergency and causality services will continue to function.
Renewing the demand for a central law, the IMA said the law should have a provision for a minimum of seven-year jail sentence for violators. To ensure that the cases are registered, culprits are arrested and conviction is necessitated, appropriate mandatory provisions as provided in the POCSO Act have to be instituted, it demanded.
“All the legitimate demands of the resident doctors in West Bengal should be accepted unconditionally,” said IMA General Secretary RV Asokan.
Doctors and medical students on Friday organised protests across the country, expressing solidarity with their Bengal counterparts.
A delegation of Resident Doctors Association of AIIMS, Safdarjung Hospital, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, United Resident and Doctors Association of India (URDA) and Federation of Resident Doctors Association (FORDA), met Vardhan and submitted a representation on the violence against doctors in West Bengal.
Doctors under the banner of Resident Doctors' Association (RDA) held marches inside the campus of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). While many doctors wore bandages on their foreheads, many others worked wearing helmets. Resident doctors of the Safdarjung Hospital also took out protests on their campus.
The Delhi Medical Association (DMA) also extended its full support to the protesting doctors in Bengal even as it asserted that medical facilities and number of doctors need to be augmented to address issues related to patients.
(With inputs from agencies)
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