As if the pandemic wasn’t enough for the affected families, the high cost of renting an ambulance has become another tragedy. It is no secret that ambulance operators across the country are charging exorbitant amounts of money to ferry Covid patients to and from hospitals. This is running unabated despite several state governments capping the maximum ambulance charge.
Siliguri in north Bengal is also witnessing this unfortunate phenomenon. Affected families in the city are worried more about the cost of renting an ambulance than the treatment itself. Several ambulance operators in Siliguri are taking advantage of the pandemic situation and are asking thousands of rupees just for a few kilometers. The arbitrary rate for ambulances has made the lives of less privileged families extremely difficult.
Bilash Debnath, a resident of Bagdogra which comes under Greater Siliguri Metropolitan Area, said there is a nexus between private hospitals and ambulance operators that has led to the explosive rise in fares. Bilash recently lost his wife to Covid-19.
There is also suffering after death. The charge for ferrying bodies of Covid victims to crematoriums is even more.
The state government has capped ambulance charges, but the operators are demanding arbitrary fares citing the risk involved.
“We have to work with enough risk. The fare fixed by the government has nothing to do with it. It is not possible to run an ambulance without increasing the fare," said one driver.
The authorities, on the other hand, are urging people to use free government service, claiming there’s no shortage of ambulances.
“Multiple voluntary organisations including the municipality are providing ambulance service free of cost. There are even hearse vehicles in the municipality. This service has been introduced for the convenience of the victims," said Gautam Deb, who is the Chairman of board of administrators of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation.