Calcutta, Oct. 21: A 27-year-old man admitted in the Howrah State General Hospital with diarrhoea was found dead next to a garbage dump this morning, two days after he went missing from his sick bed.
Santosh Hela, a sweeper, was brought to the hospital on Friday afternoon by his family. The next day, brother Chandan and father Baburam found him in good spirits and spoke to him for some time.
“He told us that he was feeling better and was happy expecting to go home in a few days,” Baburam said.
On Sunday morning, Baburam did not find him in his bed. “I looked for him for a while, but he was nowhere in sight,” he said.
After going without any information for two days, around noon today, Santosh’s wife Urmila received a call from Howrah police station asking her and other family members to come and identify a body they had found in the hospital. The family was horrified to see that the body with an injury mark on the head was none other than Santosh’s.
As horror upon horror visited the state’s healthcare system, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “I haven’t yet got a proper report, so I cannot say anything.”
Later, he ordered a CID probe.
As soon as the news broke, about 100 people descended on the hospital with iron rods and sticks, demanding to meet the hospital superintendent, H.K. Chanda.
“After the death of baby Shabana, this is the second person from the same area to suffer at the hands of callous hospital authorities,” shouted Chandan Rakshel, Santosh’s friend.
A large police force rushed to the hospital and chased the demonstrators out. Only yesterday, the chief minister had announced that protests would not be permitted on hospital premises after an incident the previous day at RG Kar Medical College and Hospital.
The police dismissed Santosh’s disappearance and death as nothing unusual. “He was a drunk and had probably walked out of the hospital on his own and wandered in the area before collapsing last night. There does not seem to be any foul play and his death was natural,” said investigating officer S.. Kanjilal.
Asked why Santosh did not go home after walking out of the hospital, Kanjilal said: “Drunkards do not care about going home.”
Family members rejected the police argument as an attempt to “save their skin”.
After visiting the hospital, the director of health services, Prabhakar Chatterjee, said: “The hospital staff did not see him leaving, but it seems he was drunk and must have walked out.”
Santosh’s body was handed over to the family later in the evening after a post-mortem.
His disappearance from hospital and death on the premises caps a string of shocking incidents in the state’s hospitals over the past eight days, beginning with Shabana Parveen’s death on October 13 after this same Howrah hospital referred the six-month-old to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, but she did not receive any medical attention.
Susmita Biswas, a college student, died at SSKM Hospital, again without treatment on Friday. Her parents visited the chief minister at Writers’ Buildings today and, reportedly, a tearful Bhattacharjee told them he could not understand how such an incident could take place in a civilised society.