A drive by the transport department to teach cabbies basic life-saving skills saw only a handful turn up, and many among those who did left after collecting their certificates and without undergoing any training.
Many of the 350-odd cabbies who came — the department had expected more than 2,500 — said they had been lured to the event with an assurance that transport minister Madan Mitra would discuss with them “police excesses” they regularly face on the road.
The decision to organise the programme, partnered by Fortis Hospital, was taken following a survey that revealed as many as 51 per cent of all emergency patients are transported to hospitals in taxis, against 10 per cent in ambulances.
However, while the life-support skills were being demonstrated on the stage at Netaji Indoor Stadium, most cabbies were either in the queue for the certificates or behind the stage collecting snacks.
When minister Mitra and transport secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay arrived around 11am, they were greeted with rows and rows of empty chairs.
A few phone calls from the minister and a desperate salvaging act by other officials of the department saw clueless cabbies trickling into the stadium well after the programme had started. Most of the drivers are from Mitra’s Progressive Taximen’s Union.
“I am supposed to be on duty at the moment. I had to come because I got a call from a union leader who said attending this event was compulsory,” said Ranjit Kar, a taxi driver who left midway through the programme, certificate in hand.
“Given that taxi drivers often have to ferry critical patients to hospitals I was expecting a larger turnout,” said Ashish Nandy, head, academics and emergency services department, Fortis Hospital, who conducted the training.
He stopped a demonstration of cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), climbed off the stage, walked across the hall to the certificate counter and requested the cabbies to sit through the training before collecting their certificates. While a few obliged, most trooped into the food counter behind the stage for the promised samosas and vegetable chops.
“I was forced to stop the lecture because hardly anyone was paying attention. I wanted them to obtain their certificates only after attending the training,” said Nandy.
Ram Kumar Rai, a taxi driver from Belgachia, felt that he had been fooled into coming to the event. “I came here because I was told that we would have a meeting with Madanbabu where we could freely discuss the problem of police excesses we face daily. It’s only after I reached the venue that I realised that the programme had been organised for a different purpose,” said Rai.
A senior leader of minister Mitra’s Progressive Taximen’s Union said they had tried their best to mobilise cabbies since Saturday evening, when they had been told about the event.
Among those who did sit patiently through the entire training, some wondered whether families of critically-ill patients would allow cabbies to apply any life-saving skill. They were also scared of the consequences if anything went wrong.
“What will happen if a patient dies after I administer him CPR? Surely I will be beaten up by the police or public,” said Shambhu Das, who went up on stage and tried out the drill on a rubber mannequin.
Minister Mitra, who sat patiently through the event in the front row, gave a different spin to the embarrassing turnout. “We deliberately kept the attendance low because I wanted the drivers to pay proper attention during the demonstration and obtain high-quality certificates,” said Mitra. He added that more such events would be held for cabbies and bus drivers and conductors.