The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blaze kills patient, bidi blamed

Habra (North 24-Parganas), Nov. 11: Gauranga Pal was admitted to a hospital on Friday to be treated for diarrhoea and anaemia. He died this morning of burns suffered while lying on his hospital bed.

With the death of the 60-year-old at a government-run hospital in Ashoknagar, about 50 km from Calcutta, the state’s health horror tale began unfolding again. But health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra was unfazed. “Shab thik-thak cholchhe (Everything is fine),” he said.

Other patients in the ward woke up at 11 pm yesterday to Gauranga’s groans. Seeing him on fire, they started shouting for help. But, according to hospital superintendent Pushpendu Sengupta, it was 20 minutes before any member of the staff heard them.

“The wardboy was repairing an oxygen cylinder and the nurse and doctor were attending to an emergency case,” Sengupta explained, matter-of-fact.

When help reached the ward, a charred Gauranga was entwined in his mosquito net and blanket. He was extricated, some stools were lined up for him to lie on and a drip was started, the superintendent added. Gauranga died at 7.30 am.

Both the hospital and the government that runs it blamed the fire on Gauranga, claiming he had lit a bidi that started it. But their accounts did not match.

Sengupta said this morning that the partially paralysed diabetic died after the bidi he was smoking fell on the blanket and set it alight.

But while the health minister quoted other patients in the ward as saying they had seen Gauranga lighting up a bidi, the superintendent claimed that another patient lit the bidi for him and helped him puff it.

Gauranga’s family asserts that he was a non-smoker.

The extent of injury that the 60-year-old suffered, too, changed between Ashoknagar and Writers’. The hospital said Gauranga died of “40 per cent burns”. But inspector-general (law and order) Chayan Mukherjee and special inspector-general (headquarters) Narayan Ghosh declared he suffered 30 per cent burns.

Gauranga was admitted last Friday but was advised discharge on Sunday because the hospital did not have the infrastructure to deal with his ailments. His wife Saraju and sons Ritam and Suman demanded that he be referred to NRS Medical College and Hospital, but the superintendent said he could only refer the patient to the hospital at Barasat, one step up the health-system ladder. Gauranga’s family asked for time till today.

They continued to come to the hospital to feed and bathe him. Last evening, the Pals were denied entry because they were late.

They passed his dinner — through a window — to an abler patient so that it could be handed over to the nurse on duty.

The family was summoned to the hospital around midnight and when they arrived, Sengupta was waiting for them. He pulled out a discharge certificate and asked Suman to sign on it. “Only when we refused to sign the piece of paper without knowing the reason for the late-night discharge, Sengupta told us his version of events,” Suman said.

By 1.30 am, other patients’ relatives and Trinamul Congress activists had joined in.

Mishra said a preliminary report did not point to negligence. “A more detailed probe will start on Wednesday,” he added.

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