The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Surgeon on leave, patients gasp

Alipurduar, Oct. 3: The operation theatre in Birpara State General Hospital has been lying closed for the past 22 days with the only surgeon gone on an indefinite leave.

Residents of Birpara today sent a letter to the Jalpaiguri chief medical officer of health (CMOH) asking him to arrange for another surgeon to take over as soon as possible.

The surgeon, Niloy Mandal, went on leave after he and one of his colleagues, Ujjwal Roy, were abused and allegedly assaulted by a local CPM leader and his supporters on September 11 following an altercation that took place the previous night. Later, when contacted in Calcutta, Mandal had said his decision to go on leave was prompted by concerns for his own safety.

At least 2 lakh people depend on the Birpara hospital and around 70 per cent of them work in tea gardens. Patients coming from these economically weak sections are suffering the most because even minor surgical cases are being referred to either Jalpaiguri Sadar Hospital or to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri, pushing the costs beyond their means. Sometimes, the patient’s relatives are being forced to collect money from neighbours. In most cases, patients are being kept at home without treatment.

Manna Lal Jain, a resident of Birpara who is in the transport business, said: “Tea garden workers are not in a position to arrange two-square meals a day, how can they afford the cost of carrying patients to faraway hospitals.”

Jain put the blame on the accused leader, Rabin Rai, who is the Birpara zonal secretary of the CPM. “The common people are suffering because of the misdeeds of a ruling party leader,” he said. “The doctors have lodged an FIR with Birpara police, yet nothing has been done simply because he is a CPM leader.”

“We have written to the CMOH, Jalpaiguri, to arrange for another surgeon immediately. Otherwise, we will start a movement.” Jain added.

Jalpaiguri CMOH Bhushan Chakraborty, however, pleaded helplessness. “Right now, I do not have any extra surgeon whom I can spare for Birpara,” he said. “I will contact Niloy and ask him to come back and rejoin work, which seems to be the only solution. I know people are suffering, but I am helpless.”

The incident of September 11 had been followed by protests by doctors from across Jalpaiguri. The agitation assumed such proportions that even the health minister was forced to intervene and request the doctors to call it off. The sabhadhipati of the zilla parishad Banamali Roy had called a meeting on September 25 and, in the presence of Rai, promised the doctors that he would personally look after their safety and security.

The problem at Birpara hospital, however, remains unsolved.

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