Calcutta, Dec. 16: Health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra today pushed through the Assembly a bill that will allow “half-doctors” to practise in villages, steamrollering a demand from the Left Front and the Opposition to defer the legislation.
The West Bengal Health Regulatory Authority Bill will permit “rural health practitioners” with a three-year diploma to treat patients in villages where qualified doctors are loath to go.
The “health practitioners” will not be called doctors, the minister said. (See chart)
The legislation had been introduced in the budget session last year and sent to a standing committee in line with procedure. The panel approved the bill after suggesting changes that the government accepted.
The committee’s approval and the absence of precedent sunk the Opposition’s case la-ter in the day before Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim, who wondered aloud: “Were they in slumber for a year?”
The drama started unfolding at the Left Front meeting this morning with the Forward Bloc’s Hafiz Alam Sairani and the RSP’s Kshiti Goswami wanting the bill deferred.
Sources said CPM state secretary and front chairman Biman Bose admitted that it had not been discussed in detail in his party, too.
“The front wants the bill referred to the Assembly select committee to evolve a collective opinion. However, the House has to decide its business,” Bose said after the meeting.
The select committee, meant to arrive at a political consensus on a sticky issue, is often given several extensions to ensure the slow death of a bill.
Health minister Mishra, however, said there was no precedent that allowed the bill to be sent to the select committee.
When the House began discussing the bill at 2.30pm, Trinamul leader Partha Chatterjee and the Congress’s Manas Bhuniya demanded its withdrawal.
The bill, they alleged, is aimed at covering up the government’s failure to provide trained doctors to villagers. The diploma holders will further endanger villagers’ lives, they said, citing the standing committee report that had recorded objections from doctors’ bodies and the Opposition.
Trinamul moved a motion asking for the select committee. The minister refused.
The deputy Speaker put the motion to vote but the electronic voting machines developed a snag and the Opposition refused to vote manually and walked out.
When the minister stood up to reply to the debate, even the treasury benches were empty. Mishra defended the bill, saying the Centre had prodded the state to make such a move and that there was no other way to ensure all rural health centres were manned.
As he finished, the Speaker adjourned the House and convened a meeting of its advisory committee to discuss the front chairman’s statement which had almost echoed the Opposition’s demand.
Mishra, however, held his ground, saying the bill could not be deferred after he had finished his reply.
The Speaker found no precedent of a bill cleared by a standing committee and discussed in the House being sent to a select committee.
However, let alone the Opposition, even the CPM’s allies were not convinced. “It is unprecedented. In 32 years of Left rule, this is the first time a bill has been passed despite the front’s objections,’’ the Bloc’s Sairani said.
Biman Bose called up the partners tonight in a bid to placate them.
Mishra said later: “I came to know about it (the front’s reservations) when I was al- ready in the House. Had it been communicated in time, I could have moved differently.”