| UNHEALTHY SIGN: The closed gates of Florence Nightingale Clinic. Picture by Amit Datta
Sheikh Kamal, Ashok Kumar Sau and Rafiq Ahmed Khan have one thing in common — they can't afford to fall ill any longer. The hospital, which provided free treatment to all three men and many others in the Tiljala, Topsia and Tangra areas, has remained closed for years, thanks to the apathy of the authorities.
The 50-bed Florence Nightingale Clinic at Sapgachi, Tiljala, run by the Bengal Service Society (BSS), a voluntary welfare organisation, was closed down in 1996 after funding agencies stopped providing aid. The hospital only requires some minor repairs and installation of a few equipment. Otherwise, from operation theatre to X-Ray room, it has all the facilities. Earlier, specialists used to treat everybody. But with BSS facing a severe funds crunch, it is unable to pay salaries to the staff and run the hospital like before. So, local people are planning to sign a petition and send it to the authorities, demanding that the hospital be reopened.
“We paid Rs 2 for a ticket and got treated here. Now, if we are down with fever, we have to pay a minimum of Rs 60 to a doctor, which 90 per cent of the people of the area can’t afford,” said Sheikh Kamal. “In case of any emergency, the nearest hospital is Chittaranjan National Medical College, and we have to fork out Rs 20 as rickshaw fare to reach there,” he added.
The hospital and a school on the adjoining plot opened in 1968 for slum-dwellers. These, along with other projects of the organisation, were doing well for themselves. Trouble started in 1996, after foreign donors stopped funding the projects, says Pradipta Kanungo, vice-president of BSS, who joined the organisation in 1997. More than 2,500 children were being deprived of education and about 100 teachers were facing retrenchment.
“We have somehow been able to revive the other projects, which include a school for children of the red-light area in Bowbazar, after receiving grants from the Central ministry of social empowerment and justice and Lions Club of Bremen,” Kanungo said. However, the ministry's aid is very irregular, with three instalments already due, she complained.
BSS is desperately seeking funds to reopen the Tiljala hospital and school. “We organised fund-raising campaigns with eminent artists donating canvases for sale. So, we were able to pay off the dues to our staff. But we need a regular funds flow to keep the hospital going,” a BSS official said.
The new governing body of the organisation has stopped the practice of selling the society’s properties to pay off liabilities, a BSS official said.
“Every time we visit the hospital, local people plead with us to reopen the hospital. We have written many times to the Central and state governments and also approached industrialists and other organisations. But no one has responded positively yet,” Kanungo said.
She said the society is trying to get funds from the Centre and foreign donors. The hospital needs at least Rs 25 lakh to restructure it and run it at a subsidised rate (Rs 50 per bed charge and Rs 10 for outdoor treatment) for a year. “But if the government does not help us, our funds are already depleted,” Kanungo said.
But hope is running out. Hospital caretaker Dilwar Singh still keeps the hospital clean. He wonders if he can do so much longer.