ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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WEST BENGAL-Trouble on the Health Front

Trouble on the Health Front Sujit K Das TROUBLE has once again erupted on the health front in West Bengal. It was not unexpected. In November 1986 the junior doctors submitted a charter of demands to the government of West Bengal asking for in-service status for their jobs (which involves pay-hike), better emergency care in the hospitals, stoppage of ad hoc recruitment of doctors in government service, restoration of fair practice in post-graduate medical education and abolition of the chief minister's quota in admission to MBBS course. The government as usual ignored them when they went through the conventional agitaiive programmes. From January 1987, the junior doctors resorted to a novel way of registering protest. Refusing to sign on the pay roll, they put their left thumb impression (LTI) at the time of receiving their monthly stipends, claiming that their emoluments are worse than what the mostly illiterate (group D) government employees draw with LTI. A commotion ensued. To and fro telephone calls were exchanged between hospital authorities and the headquarters. Though the government asked the superintendents not to disburse stipend on LTI, the latter however, took stock of the situation and disbursed the stipends. The episode caught the imagination of the reporters and the newspapers featured it prominently. Surprisingly, the government reaction was very sharp. The hospital authorities were admonished and LTI was forbidden. On January 31, 1987, when the junior doctors again insisted on LTI for the next month's stipend at SSKM Hospital, Calcutta, they were refused. The young doctors squatted in front of the cashier's counter and chanted slogans. Suddenly a large police party led by two deputy commissioners entered swinging sticks and made indis- criminaie lathi-charge without warning. A score of junior doctors including a lady were injured, lour of them seriously, needing hospital admission and 10 doctors were arrested on charges of illegal assembly, rioting, resisting government officers from performing duty and so on. The news spread like wild fire and all junior doctors in the government hospitals under the leadership of All Bengal Junior Doctors Federation (ABJDF) ceased work, maintaining only emergency services. On February 2, 1987, Health Services Association (HSA, the organisation of the medical officers in government service) called a one-day's cease- work to protest against the police action, closing all services except the emergency. Jyoti Basu, the chief minister, returning from Bangladesh on that day, added fuel to the fire by his characteristic casual remarks. Basu made a remark against the junior doctors and, asserting that they insulted and manhandled the lady superintendent, he warned about stern disciplinary measures. At the same time, in spite of the demands from all quarters, the chief minister ruled out any sort of enquiry into the incident and refused to disclose the contents of the superintendent's own report. Since then services in all big hospitals in the state where junior doctors are appointed, remain virtually paralysed.

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