A migrant worker was forced to carry the body of his five-month-old son in a bag and take public transport to reach his native village around 200 kilometres away as he could not pay the amount demanded by private ambulances at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri.
Asim Debsharma, a resident of Dangipara village in North Dinajpur, said his wife had given birth to twins — a boy and a girl — five months back. On May 6, both the children fell sick and the following day, they were admitted to the state general hospital in Kaliaganj.
“Their condition deteriorated and both were referred to Raiganj Government Medical College and Hospital. Doctors examined them and said they had some problems in the food pipe. We were advised to take them to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (NBMCH),” said Debsharma, a construction worker in Kerala.
Located at Sushrutanagar, on the outskirts of Siliguri, NBMCH is the largest state-run referral hospital in north Bengal.
On May 7, the girl’s condition improved and Debsharma’s wife returned home with the daughter. Debsharma stayed back at the hospital with their son, who was still under treatment.
“My son died yesterday night. The authorities told me this morning that I would have to take away his body within three hours. I started scouting for ambulances and dialled 102 (the national ambulance helpline). I was told that no free ambulance was available,” said the bereaved father, who is in his mid-thirties.
He then spoke to some private ambulance drivers near the NBMCH. “They asked for Rs 8,000. I didn’t have so much money and urged them to charge a lower rate. None of them agreed,” said Debsharma.
He packed the son's body in the bag in which he was carrying clothes.
“I took an e-rickshaw and reached the private bus stand in Siliguri. From there, I boarded a Raiganj-bound bus. I was apprehensive that other passengers would learn the truth and so, kept the bag on the footrest. I can’t explain what I felt like while travelling with my son’s body,” said Debsharma.
He got down in Raiganj and took another bus to reach Kaliaganj. There, a relative, whom he had informed earlier, was waiting for him. “In Kaliaganj, I was surprised to see that an ambulance had been arranged for me,” said Debsharma, before heading for his village, which is 12km away.
Sources said Gouranga Das, a BJP councillor of Kaliaganj municipality, had arranged the ambulance.
“It was sad to hear that the person had travelled in a bus with his son’s body as he didn’t have the money to pay for a private ambulance. As I learned about it, I made the arrangement to ensure that they travelled in an ambulance from here to their house,” said Das.
Around 4pm, the last rites of the child were conducted at the village. The local block office handed over Rs 2,000 to the family. The assistance has been provided under the “Samabyathi” scheme (under which money is given for last rites).
Suvendu Adhikari, the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, has questions for the state’s health insurance scheme.
“This is Ashim Debsharma; father of a 5 month old infant who died in a Medical College in Siliguri. He was being charged Rs. 8000/- to transport the dead body of his child. Unfortunately, after spending Rs. 16,000/- in the past few days during the treatment, he couldn't pay the money.
So he kept the dead body of the child in a bag & boarded a public bus to go back to his home at Mustafanagor Village in Kaliyaganj; Uttar Dinajpur district. Let's not get into technicalities, but is this what "Swasthya Sathi '' has achieved? This is unfortunately the true portrayal of the "Egiye Bangla" model,” he tweeted.
Trinamul leaders in Kaliaganj said they had no inkling of the incident.
“We would have definitely helped the person carry his son's body in a proper manner to his village. But no one contacted us,” said Nitai Baishya, Trinamul’s president in Kaliaganj block.
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes has also taken note of the incident. “It is an inhuman incident and indicates the state’s apathy. I will speak to the family and we might even initiate a probe,” said Arun Haldar, vice-chairperson of the commission.
Notice to officials
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes has served notices on the district magistrate of North Dinajpur, the superintendent of police of Raiganj police district and the inspector general of police, north Bengal, in connection with the alleged murder of a minor girl and the death of Mrityunjoy Barman in suspected police firing.
They have been asked to appear before the commission on May 26.