Calcutta, Sept. 5: Former chief minister Jyoti Basu tonight resented the manner in which health minister Suryakanta Mishra initially reacted to the “appalling tragedy” at B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children.
Hours after reports of the deaths reached Writers’ Buildings, Mishra had told reporters there was “nothing abnormal in the number of deaths that have taken place in the last two days”.
Basu said it would have been “a good gesture if Surya himself paid a visit to the hospital instead of issuing a statement when 14 children had died in two consecutive days. The death of such a large number of children in a hospital is not a normal thing.”
The former chief minister recounted that former health minister Prasanta Sur had flown in from Chandigarh to a remote primary health centre in Nadia in April 1995 when a child died after defective polio vaccination. Sur, the health minister between 1987 and 1996, had gone to Chandigarh to attend the CPM party congress.
Basu, however, was all praise for chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who visited B.C Roy hospital last evening and asked officials there to set things right. “Buddha took control (of the situation) in a remarkable way,” Basu said, also mentioning state CPM secretary Anil Biswas’ efforts to douse the controversy.
Basu felt that the matter would not have snowballed if Mishra had handled it correctly at the beginning.
He said the party’s secretariat would discuss the matter at a meeting tomorrow. “Surya will perhaps explain the circumstances that led to the death of such a large number of children in the hospital,” he added.
Basu was not the only one to feel disturbed at the initial lack of humane response from the government.
By Tuesday, a day after the deaths were made public, state CPM secretary Anil Biswas was feeling uncomfortable after he learnt of Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s visit to the hospital and her plans to launch an anti-government campaign.
Biswas’ discomfort heightened late in the evening after influential secretariat members began to contact him with their doubts about the quality of the government’s response to the deaths.
Reports also reached Biswas from the party grassroots that Mamata’s and the Naxalites’ separate agitations on the issue had started appealing to the popular mood.
Biswas then contacted Bhattacharjee who, too, had started feeling that the situation merited a “healing touch” from the government as well as the party.
However, they decided to structure the “healing touch” keeping Mishra in the picture, but slightly towards the margin. At no point did Bhattacharjee and Biswas think of jettisoning Mishra.
“Make no mistake. Mishra is a very sensitive person and feels no less pain at human tragedies than you or me,” Biswas said in defence of the health minister.
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