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Doctors strain at tether

As if the lawyers’ strike is not enough, over 1,500 doctors converged on the city centre on Friday afternoon and served the state government an “ultimatum” until Monday to arrive at a decision on their demands or face “a larger agitation”. The protest agenda includes a possible hungerstrike.

The agitation by the doctors, grouped under the banner of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), comes at a time when the government is reeling under the lawyers’ marathon strike. The IMA members on Friday were protesting the implementation of the controversial Clinical Establishments Act, the “poor pay structure” of about 1,200 ESI doctors in the state and the “random” arrest of doctors.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had met members of the Bengal branch of the IMA on Wednesday and assured them that the government would shortly announce its revised decisions on the issues raised by them. “Following the chief minister’s verbal assurances, we decided to call off our law-violation programme. But we will wait only till Monday before deciding on a course of action, which will be in the form of a larger agitation,” warned Subir Ganguly, president of IMA’s Bengal branch.

State health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra and director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee will meet IMA representatives on Monday to explain the government’s stand on the doctor’s demands.

Office-bearers of the Calcutta branch of the IMA on Friday insisted they had had “enough of empty promises” from the government. “Earlier this year, we had met the chief minister and he had assured us that he would take steps by May. But that did not happen,” observed R.D. Dubey, secretary of the IMA’s city branch.

The doctors’ sit-in, from noon to 4 pm, opposite Metro cinema, was bolstered by the presence of a large number of lawyers, who took time off from their agitation to extend their support to the doctors.

Taimur Hussain of the Democratic Lawyers’ Association later told Metro: “Most of the doctors are booked under Section 304 (homicide), IPC, in case of deaths of patients, whereas they can be booked under 304 A (rash and negligent act). This should be rectified, as doctors are not professional killers.”

Apart from demanding exemption for private practitioners in the Clinical Establishments Act, the IMA has sought the removal of certain “impractical suggestions”, like registering their names with the state government, despite having a permanent registration number from the Medical Council of India.

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