The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Patients rubbish bidi fire version

Habra (North 24-Parganas), Nov. 12: A day after a paralytic patient was charred to death on one of its beds, the state-run hospital here could not answer why there was no one in the ward for over 20 minutes as Gauranga Pal tossed and turned in bed while he was burning to death.

Why didn’t a single patient make an effort to put out the fire either'

Two of the patients in beds closest to Pal’s said today Pal himself never raised an alarm as he, too, was “in all probability” fast asleep — like almost every other patient — when his bed caught fire.

How could they help him when they were asleep and he (Pal) had not shouted for help, they asked. How could a man who was awake smoking fail to shout for help, they asked, questioning the hospital management’s version that the fire started from Pal’s bidi.

A section of the management had hinted that Rabin Pramanik, Pal’s next-bed neighbour, lit the bidi for the paralysed Pal. Pramanik said today he was fast asleep when the fire started.

Pramanik said he, like almost every other patient in the 30-bed ward, was asleep “for quite some time” before the clock struck 11. “I woke up and saw with great difficulty (it was dark and his neighbour was inside a mosquito net) that Pal was tossing and turning and seemed to be in great pain.”

He, and the others who were waking up, started shouting for help.

“That Pal was close to death when hospital staff responded to our shouts suggested that the bed had caught fire several minutes back. How could that happen if he was smoking'” Another patient, Sudhir Das, corroborated Pramanik’s version of the events. “He was probably singed before he woke up,” Das, admitted with thyroid problems, said.

Next to Pal’s bed were a few inches of a new plastic casing, which covered the electric wires. Patients claimed that the casing was hastily put in place before the probe team arrived.

However, hospital authorities ruled out a “fire from a loose electric connection”.

Writers’ Buildings sent a team to Ashoknagar State General Hospital, about 50 km from Calcutta, to conduct an inquiry. The nurses and ward boy on duty on Monday night were questioned.

State health services director Prabhakar Chatterjee said the team’s brief was to “probe everything”. That included trying to find out how a hospital ward could be left without an attendant for almost half-an-hour.

Health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, however, absolved hospital staff on the basis of the preliminary report. “As things stand now, neither nurses nor doctors look guilty.”

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