Calcutta, March 2: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has expressed her inability to attend the centenary celebrations of the Marwari Relief Society Hospital, passing up a chance to send a reassuring signal to the city’s business community.
R.S. Agarwal, founder chairman of Emami and co-owner of AMRI Hospitals, will be present at tomorrow’s event at a city auditorium.
“We wanted the chief minister at the programme but were told she would not be able to make it because of her preoccupations. But we are happy that governor M.K. Narayanan, who is the head of the state, will attend this historic occasion,” Sajjan Bhajanka, the president of the society, told The Telegraph this afternoon.
As far as this newspaper could verify till Saturday evening, the chief minister’s Sunday diary had little that could have come in the way of attending the programme.
“The chief minister should acknowledge that the Marwari community controls the majority of industries in Bengal. She should have attended tomorrow’s programme to revive the government’s industry-friendly image,” said a member of the society.
The Mamata government’s relationship with the community had taken a knock after a perception took root that different yardsticks were used for different people while dealing with the aftermath of the fire at AMRI Hospitals, Dhakuria, that killed 91 people on December 9, 2011.
Six AMRI directors — S.K. Todi, Ravi Todi, Prashant Goenka, Manish Goenka, Radheshyam Goenka and Dayanand Agarwal — had to spend at least 111 days behind bars following stiff resistance to their bail petition from the prosecution. Arrest warrants were issued also against other directors — Aditya Agarwal, Rahul Todi and Preeti Surekha — who had to seek anticipatory bail to avoid arrest.
But the police did not oppose the bail petitions of two doctors on the AMRI board and did not even question the government nominees on the board, fuelling charges that the administration was being “selective”.
The perception was strengthened when R.S. Agarwal was taken out of the intensive cardiac care unit of a private hospital in Alipore by police and admitted to SSKM Hospital a few days after the fire.
“There is no denying that the owner directors were harassed by the administration. Even the cops knew that the directors were not involved in the day-to-day operations of the hospital,” said a city-based businessman.
The community’s dismay found an outlet when a leading business chamber issued a statement, following which the chief minister sought to calm nerves.
On April 28, 2012, she visited Birla family patriarch Basant Kumar Birla on his 70th wedding anniversary and later warmed up to the business community by giving some key members the task of holding an investors’ meet in New Delhi last December.
“These acts did assuage some of the concerns in the community…. But had she been present at tomorrow’s programme, it would have surely sent a positive signal,” said a city-based businessman.
Mamata’s absence will be felt by the 1,100-odd members of the audience, who will attend the culmination of the centenary celebrations of the 222-bed hospital in Burrabazar, which is almost fully funded by the Marwaris of Bengal but serves mostly poor people outside the community.
“You can say that almost 100 per cent funding comes from the community, but 90 per cent of the patients treated here do not belong to the community,” Bhajanka said.
He counted Agarwal, one of the promoters of AMRI Hospitals, among the important patrons of the Burrabazar hospital, which still offers beds at rates as low as Rs 25 a day.
“His family and the Emami Group have very close relations with us. They keep donating to the society, too. Recently, they donated a ventilator worth Rs 10 lakh,” a society member added.
Trinamul sources felt that Mamata’s reluctance to attend the programme stemmed primarily from the scheduled presence of the Emami Group chairman.
“The AMRI case is still going on and the file to allow the partial opening of the hospital’s Dhakuria unit is lying with the chief minister’s office,” said a senior Trinamul leader.
Recently, the government allowed the AMRI authorities to reopen the Dhakuria hospital’s diabetic clinic and pathology laboratory under a reconstituted board, but permission to reopen the main unit is still pending.
While Mamata won’t be at tomorrow’s programme, senior party colleague Sudip Bandyopadhyay, MP from Calcutta North, will be present.
“We spoke to Sudip Bandyopadhyay and informed him that R.S. Agarwal would be on the dais. The local MP said he had no problems,” an office-bearer of the society said.