The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ghosts, drunks & virus victims

Calcutta, April 30: Ghosts round the clock, drunks after dark and criminals when the occasion demands: that is what Asitabha Purakayastha, Radheyshyam Gupta, Jamil Ahmed and Hazari Prasad will have for company at Beleghata’s Infectious Diseases Hospital, the state’s first — and last — defence against the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The confirmed SARS patients, Purakayastha and Gupta, and suspects Ahmed and Hazari are staying in different areas of Isolation Block-I. However, the suspects may very soon be shifted to Isolation Block-VIII because the confirmed patients might pass on the virus to them if they do not have it already, say doctors.

Isolation Block-VIII comprises an area believed to be “infested with” — no, not cockroaches and mice but — ghosts, say hospital insiders. “Quite a few ‘incidents’ have occurred there,” a group-D staffer working at ID Hospital for the past two decades said.

“As, initially, group-D staff and, then, nurses and other paramedical staff started shying away from work there, that wing has not seen any activity for quite some time,” he added.

He was speaking the truth, at least about the no-activity part. Not a single fan or light can be found now — corroboration of the old man’s tale.

More seriously, the administration has serious work to do as far as the “problems” — which even “educated” doctors working from ID Hospital admit — vis-a-vis human beings go. One problem is regular but the other — the more fearsome — is not a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence either.

Hospital officials admit it is a common practice for local criminals to take shelter in this hospital whenever they feel the heat — of police raids — more. There are several reasons for this, they explain.

First, with the state seeing a decline in the incidence of infectious diseases, the hospital has for some time seen mostly empty beds. Only about a 100 of the hospital’s 700 beds (according to official records) are now occupied by indoor patients.

Second, a section of the group-D staff has strong political connections and — consequently — not-very-tenuous links with the local underworld. Every political party — be it the ruling CPM or the Opposition Trinamul Congress — has some staffers who take “active part” during elections (that translates into jamming booths or fighting on the road, say officials).

They, necessarily, have some friends who do not belong to the hospital. “But help cannot be denied in times of need,” a hospital insider admitted. So, when the police chase becomes too hot, many in the local underworld simply come to the hospital and take up a bed.

“This hospital sees little crowds and, consequently, little government and media attention,” an official explained. “So, it is much easier to do things here — with the vacant beds —than in, say, Medical College and Hospital or SSKM Hospital,” he said.

Drunks, of course, are a regular nocturnal phenomenon. A section of the hospital staff invites friends over after dark and with illicit liquor vendors selling the country-made variety, the vast campus becomes an open-air bar every rainless night, say officials.

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