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Union defeats ban on hospital raj

Burdwan, Jan. 23: The subdivisional hospital in Katwa was at the centre of activity ' screeching cars, busy loudspeakers and milling cadre. Patients had to plug their ears and pray for peace as the party held a conference in the precinct.

About two years ago, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government had decreed that no party or employees' union would be allowed to hold meetings or have offices inside hospitals. But Coordination Committee, the government employees' union that owes allegiance to the ruling party, cares little. It held a two-day district conference inside Katwa Subdivisional Hospital, 180 km from Calcutta. Needless to say, it also has an office on the premises.

Told by the district authorities about the meet that started yesterday, the government has ordered a probe. Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said he has asked Santosh Sarengi, the district's chief medical officer of health, to conduct the inquiry and submit a report by next week.

Chatterjee said: 'Any sort of union office on a hospital campus is illegal, let alone holding a conference. We have banned setting up of union offices in hospitals in very clear terms. Any violation of this rule attracts penal measures. In the past, we acted against employees' bodies and forced them to vacate buildings or rooms.'

About a decade ago, an office of the West Bengal Food and Supplies Karmachari Samity was set up in a house that earlier housed a leprosy clinic. The union office now occupies the entire single-storey, three-room building.

The premises looked more like a marketplace as dozens of cars rolled in and loudspeakers made a mockery of the boards declaring a silence zone. The Coordination Committee flag was hoisted and members shouted slogans and a chorus of singers performed. The delegates' session was held across the road at Rabindra Parishad auditorium.

About 100 patients are now at the hospital and their relatives were stunned by the chaos. Shyamalendu Biswas, whose septuagenarian mother Indubala was admitted with a stomach ailment and dehydration three days ago, said: 'Such cacophony' we are really worried. Hindi songs are not being belted out, but loud and frequent announcements have made life difficult.'

Doctors, who did not want to be identified, said the 'atmosphere was being vitiated'.

Hospital superintendent Goutam Ghosh tried to pass the buck. 'Earlier, we had a leprosy clinic in the building. After it shifted to the outpatient department, we handed over the house to the chief medical officer. Questions of my permitting them to set up the office or hold a conference do not arise. I am not informed about the activities there,' he said.

Sarengi tried to deflect the buck. 'We do not know about any permission being sought from us. The hospital superintendent should know.'

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