Prabir Banerjee (extreme left), the head of the gastroenterology department of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, outside Jawahar Tower, the administrative building of the Haldia Dock Complex, with the civil rights group on Friday. (Jahangir Badsa)
Nov. 2: Everything is “normal” in Haldia, so normal that a doctor of a state-run medical college has to skip work and travel 160km to study the “ground situation” in the port town.
He was in a team put together by followers of Mamata Banerjee and drawn from various walks of life.
Asked why he left patients and headed for Haldia, Prabir Banerjee, the head of the gastroenterology department of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, told The Telegraph: “I had taken a casual leave and had also informed the authorities…. There were 10 other doctors, including juniors, to take care of the patients at the hospital.”
Banerjee went to Haldia as part of a 40-strong delegation, led by Prasun Bhowmik, whom the chief minister had picked as one of the negotiators to hold talks with Maoists after she came to power.
Bhowmik said the primary objective of the team was to assess the situation of the workers in Haldia dock complex in the aftermath of the retrenchment of 275 workers from Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT), a cargo handler.
However, Bhowmik told a post-visit news conference: “Nothing has happened in Haldia.”
The chief minister had used almost the same words on Monday while other Trinamul leaders have been saying “everything is normal in Haldia”. Today, the government and Trinamul chorused that the company that wants to pull out is a mere “clearing agent” and not an industrial venture.
The team went to Jawahar Tower, the main office of the Haldia port authorities, and wanted to enter the dock area. However, the port officials denied them permission to enter the secure area.
“The staff should fight a legal battle. Their sacking was illegal,” said Bhowmik, with Banerjee standing beside him.
While the doctor was away, hospital sources said, 20 to 25 patients had to wait for hours. Most came from the districts and some returned without any medical consultation.
At least one visitor echoed the sources. “At least 20 to 25 patients were waiting for the department’s head. Some of them went back without consulting any doctor while others were examined by other doctors,” said Amirul Islam, a relative of a patient. He declined to name his relative.
On April 20, this year, at a Town Hall programme, the chief minister had reminded doctors that her government was keeping an eye on their performance. “The doctors must remember that I am keeping a record of their performance,” the chief minister had told a convention of medical practitioners.
Mamata had also advised the 2,000-odd doctors at the meeting to treat patients with a humane approach, reminding them that their primary responsibility was to treat the poorest of poor who cannot go to expensive private healthcare facilities.
Siddhartha Chakraborty, a former principal of Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital, told ABP Ananda that a doctor should take station leave if he was going beyond 25km radius of his workplace.
“Government hospital doctors are always on call as it is an emergency service. If the doctor does not inform the hospital about his whereabouts while on leave, patients may suffer in case of a medical emergency,” said a medical superintendent of a medical college.
An official of the medical college said that Banerjee had not taken station leave.
“There has been no complaint from anyone so I have no knowledge,” said S.N. Banerjee, the state’s director of medical education.
Health department sources said that the gastroenterologist faced departmental action six years ago after relatives of a patient who had died at SSKM hospital lodged a complaint of negligence against him with the state human rights commission.
“The state health department had taken action and his increment and promotion was stalled for four years,” said an official, adding that the doctor was transferred from SSKM to Calcutta Medical College in 2008.
Banerjee said: “The allegations are false and were a conspiracy by the CPM government against me. I had moved court and all charges were quashed.”