| Three mothers with their babies on one bed at the Medical College and Hospital in Calcutta. Picture by Pabitra Das n See Metro
Calcutta, Sept. 6: Nearly two years into retirement, Jyoti Basu today played the arbiter in the CPM as he reprimanded health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra on his response to the baby deaths.
Basu chose a meeting of the CPM state secretariat to articulate the party’s sentiments, telling Mishra that his initial reaction struck people as “cold and inadequate”.
“You are a very senior leader of our party and also an efficient physician,” Basu said, turning towards Mishra. “Given your qualities and stature, our party and government expected a more sensible response from you.”
But chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and CPM state secretary Anil Biswas came in for praise. “Thanks to their intervention, we could get a grip on the issue of hospital deaths three days after it broke. We could have done without the controversy,” Basu said.
The words of solace came only after Basu ticked off Bhattacharjee’s government for the slow response. “For the life of me, I still don’t understand why the government didn’t initiate early measures to check the deaths,” he said.
Bhattacharjee and Biswas, who flanked the patriarch, and the rest of the 14 member-secretariat sat almost silently while Basu made his unequivocal comments.
Basu’s criticism of Mishra was also shaped by the minister’s dependence on reports from health officials. “You could have gone to the hospital as soon as you heard about the deaths, instead of waiting for reports from your officials,” Basu said.
Basu’s tough words were also meant to sensitise the party to the need for extending greater support to Bhattacharjee and Mishra to break the resistance from an influential section of health officials, doctors and workers.
The party secretariat asked Mishra to move ahead with his reforms programme and assured him of “full support for any action” to streamline the administration of government hospitals.