Doctors' strike continues in West Bengal, enters fifth consecutive day

Members of Resident Doctors Association (RDA) of AIIMS wearing bandages on their heads protest to show solidarity with their counterparts in West Bengal | PTI
Junior doctors on Saturday turned down West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s invitation for a meeting at the state secretariat to resolve the impasse at state-run hospitals which has left thousands of patients in the state helpless and newborns dead. The strike by physicians over safety issues entered its fifth consecutive day today.

However, five senior doctors met the chief minister to find a way to end the deadlock. 

After the meeting, Banerjee said, “There are legal provisions by which the medical council can cancel their license. States like Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Delhi and Manipur had invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to face crises. But we haven’t initiated any action against the protesting junior doctors and believe it can be sorted out peacefully. I have pardoned them”.

ESMA is a Parliamentary Act which ensures delivery of essential services including healthcare, public transport and others.

Banerjee said just demands of the agitators had been met with and 3,000 policemen were engaged in providing security at hospitals.

“The government has taken and will take all steps necessary to restore normalcy at the hospitals and will assess all security measures”, she said.

On the other hand, agitating doctors said that the chief minister had to tender an unconditional apology for her comments and that they were are not satisfied with the level of police protection at the hospitals.

“For the last two days, the chief minister has made offensive and inappropriate statements directed towards doctors. Following that, we faced mob attacks and physical assaults. We are deeply upset, hopeless and feel highly insecure and apprehensive regarding our representatives’ meeting with her behind closed doors,” a statement released by the Joint Forum of Junior Doctors (JFJD), one of the bodies leading the agitation, stated. 

Junior doctors have hardened their stance despite Santanu Sen, national president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), pursuing the agitating junior doctors to resolve their issues through a discussion with the chief minister.

“The doctors have a social responsibility as well and if this strike continues for long with no discussions with the chief minister, the doctors will lose people’s empathy and face alienation. Somewhere I believe, there has been a misunderstanding between the doctors’ community and the people which needs to be resolved”, he said after meeting agitators.

Sen said the attack on doctors was not just a phenomenon in West Bengal, but across the nation, and thus the body was asking the Centre to come up with a law on this matter.

Meanwhile, patients, including newborns, allegedly continued to lose their lives due to unavailability of doctors.

"My child died due to lack of treatment. He was not attended by any doctor because of their strike," Abhijit Mallik from Agarpara, father of a deceased newborn, said.

The chief minister said deaths had also been reported from West Medinipore and Murshidabad.

However, despite the common man's hardships, junior physicians remained firm on their stand and demanded that Banerjee come to meet them and bow to their demands first.

Meanwhile, more than 200 doctors have resigned in the state and the Centre has sought a report from the state government over the issue. West Bengal governor K N Tripathi also advised the chief minister to take immediate steps to provide security to doctors and take them into confidence about the firm and credible assurance of arrangements for their security, as well as, a quick probe into the incidents of assault on them. AIIMS has also issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Banerjee to meet the demands of the junior doctors.

The IMA, which has also shown solidarity with these protestors, alleged that the agitation was also being used for “vested interests”.  

“I am seeing outsiders, who are neither doctors, nor involved with the medical community, in the strike. These outsiders do not want to end this deadlock. I appeal to the junior doctors not to pay heed to them and also ask these outsiders not to brainwash the agitators for their vested interests”, Sen said.

Earlier, Banerjee had also alleged that outsiders were involved in the strike, which has left the state’s poor people angry, as their near and dear ones are either succumbing to death as doctors are not attending to their duties, or have been left on their own without medical care.

While the BJP alleged that steps had not been taken against the assailants, who had beaten up a junior doctor at NRS hospital, as the accused were voters of the TMC, the Congress wrote to prime minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention in resolving the ongoing crisis.

This Tuesday, a junior doctor in the state-run NRS hospital was attacked after a patient passed away, which led to the strike in the state-run healthcare segment. Five people have been arrested in connection with the incident.

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