| Mamata Banerjee and (right) Deepa Das Munshi
Oct. 7: The Centre today said Raiganj would be the first choice for setting up an AIIMS-like hospital, tilting towards the pocketborough of Deepa Das Munshi who has been locked in a tussle with Mamata Banerjee over the location of the super-speciality project.
However, the state government appeared to throw down the gauntlet at Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. “Azadsaheb cannot set up the hospital at Raiganj if we do not arrange land for it,” Chandrima Bhattacharya, who is overseeing the health department in Bengal as minister of state under Mamata, said in Calcutta.
Speaking to reporters in Behrampore, Azad had said in the afternoon: “If we set up a super-speciality, AIIMS-like hospital in West Bengal, we will set it up at Raiganj first.”
Subsequent comments by Azad, who was in Murshidabad to campaign for Congress candidate Abhijit Mukherjee for a Lok Sabha by-election, suggested he was well aware of the tug-of-war over the hospital.
“When we joined the coalition government led by the Trinamul Congress in Bengal, we had expectations that the land problem would be solved at Raiganj and we would be able to go ahead with the scheme,” he said. “But I regret that the government here has not arranged land for the hospital in Raiganj. Rather, it is talking of shifting it to Calcutta or its neighbouring areas.”
Raiganj is Congress MP Deepa’s constituency, and the state government had dropped occasional hints that the project would be shifted to Kalyani on the outskirts of Calcutta.
Deepa, whose thorny relationship with Mamata is well known and who is considered a front-runner for a berth when the Trinamul-created vacancies in the Union ministry are filled, has been leading an agitation in Raiganj to retain the project, sanctioned by the Centre four years ago.
“I am really happy over Azadji’s announcement. I spoke to him yesterday before he left for Jangipur,” Deepa said from Delhi tonight.
Azad put the ball in the state government’s court if it wanted another AIIMS-like hospital elsewhere. “If the state government wants to set up an AIIMS-like hospital in Calcutta or its surrounding areas, it can send its proposal to the Centre and we shall consider it with all seriousness. But there is no question of dropping the idea of setting up the super-speciality hospital at Raiganj first,” Azad asserted.
But Bhattacharya, the state’s junior health minister, said: “Our chief minister has already announced that the government would not forcibly acquire land from farmers in Raiganj for the AIIMS-like hospital. So, we shall set up an AIIMS-like hospital at Kalyani, where the government has adequate land.”
An official in Nadia district said “adequate land” near the Kalyani Expressway had been earmarked for the AIIMS-like hospital. “However, nothing has progressed so far since the government is yet to take a decision,” he added.
At Raiganj’s Panishala, a 100-acre plot was earmarked for the hospital project but only 15-20 per cent of it was owned by the state. The remaining acres have to be acquired. Mamata had said on August 30 that “the government would not acquire land forcibly in Raiganj and if land is given”, the hospital could be set up there.
Deepa said today that the availability of land would not be a problem. “We have decided to purchase land from farmers. For this, we shall begin a campaign to collect donations from October 11 when I shall wind up our fortnight-long agitation in support of the hospital in Raiganj. Setting up the hospital at Raiganj was my ailing husband Priya Ranjan Das Munshi’s dream and I believe that the dream will come true,” she said.
A Trinamul general secretary tonight accused the Congress of “throwing cold water on Didi’s plans in order to avenge her decision to pull out of the UPA government”.