The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hospital showdown trial for minister’s medicine

Calcutta, Aug. 25: On Friday, as health minister Surya Kanta Mishra was preparing to deliver next day his lay-off-hospitals message for trade unions, one of the city’s largest medicare institutions was getting ready to restrict admissions.

The move — according to the hospital management — was a result of “rampant indiscipline” by a trade union representing a section of the staff.

The AMRI-Apollo Hospitals unit at Dhakuria is now taking in only “emergency patients” following Friday’s violence for which workers are blaming police. Only four patients were admitted till 4 pm today, hospital officials said.

The difference of opinion was on the hospital’s year of inception, which determines payment of bonus. It led to violent protests from workers and to police intervention that the workers said was “even more violent”.

The workers were protesting against the management’s decision to continue giving ex-gratia payment and not the bonus, which might be an enhanced figure for most staffers this Durga Puja.

The management accused the union of damaging furniture, creating “panic” among patients, heckling and abusing senior managerial staff, snapping telephone connections and forcing “even staffers willing to work to come out of their units to join the agitation”. The police were called in after the workers “took over” a vacant room to create a union office despite requests from the authorities to take a rented room nearby.

The union — the hospital has an Indian National Trade Union Congress unit — denied the allegations, saying it had gone in for a “peaceful agitation” when Lake police station officials barged into the union room, beat up members, including a pregnant woman, Tanushree Mandal. The union members said the police also pulled down and smashed pictures of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, all the time using the “filthiest language possible”.

Yesterday, the health minister had said the unions have “virtually turned hospitals into factories and this cannot be allowed any more”.

The hospital management says the hospital began operations from 1997-98. The staffers, therefore, are eligible for bonus from 2003-04, after the five-year cooling-off period. “The pre-operation admission of a few patients in end-1996 can’t be called a start of commercial operations,” said AMRI chief executive officer Jose Verghese.

The union claims it has documents that “prove” the hospital started operations in 1996-97. “The management is pushing the union-room issue to the fore to brush under the carpet our legitimate demands,” general secretary Deepak Baruah said.

The management says it is being forced to restrict admissions as it is not convinced it can provide every patient with “the usual quality care”. “The hospital has 160 beds — and, in usual circumstances, 85 per cent occupancy — but, at the moment, will not be able to give care that I feel can be called satisfactory,” Verghese said, explaining the management’s decision. “We are taking in only those patients whom we cannot afford to send away.”

But the union claims that the management is admitting patients “normally”.

by giving a false impression that it is against work-culture and discipline,” Baruah said. The union, he added, was agitating in a way that would not affect hospital work.

Tuesday, however, could see tempers rising. The union is planning to gherao Lake Police Station to protest against “police atrocities”.The management says it is monitoring the situation and would “normalise” admission only after it is sure the situation has improved.

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