Defying warnings of punitive action by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the stir by junior doctors in West Bengal continued for the fourth consecutive day on Friday with hundreds of doctors in state-run hospitals writing to the authorities saying they would “like to resign” from their services.
Between Thursday and Friday afternoon, as many as 642 doctors – professors, associate professors, assistant professors and medical officers – have written to the authorities.
The spate of threats to resign followed after the chief minister on Thursday ruled out any discussion with the agitating doctors. The mass resignation has only symbolic value. Individuals wishing to resign must do so on their own and it is up to the government to decide whether to accept their resignation or not. An elaborate procedure follows.
The “cease work” by the junior doctors has severely affected services in all departments of the medical colleges. The outpatients’ department (OPD), which have the highest footfall in any hospital, was closed. Emergency and the departments for radiology and pathology were affected too.
“Even indoor services were affected. If junior doctors, who form the bulk of the medics in any hospital stay away from work, it’s natural that seniors cannot fill the gap. And since many senior doctors expressed their intention to resign, one can imagine the situation,” said a senior doctor at the Howrah district hospital.
Though no figures were officially available, a health department officials said that the number of junior doctors – interns, house staff and postgraduate trainees – was between 2,500 and 3,000.
The establishments where doctors submitted resignations were R G Kar Medical College and Hospital (126), SSKM Hospital (175), N R S Medical College and Hospital (108), North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (119), National Medical College and Hospital (16), Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital (45), Burdwan Medical College and Hospital (35) and College of Medicine & Sagore Dutta Hospital (18).
In the national capital, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan pinned the blame for the escalation of protests by doctors on the chief minister and asked her not to make it a prestige issue.
“Doctors are feeling insecure. I would urge them to return to work in the interest of the common people, but continue their protest,” said Bharatiya Janata Party Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh.
Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury said, “The relatives of the patients are waiting for an immediate solution but the CM has made the situation complex. She will be solely responsible if the doctors stop work across the state.”
Hearing a public interest case, a division bench of Calcutta High Court on Friday asked the state government to provide details by the date of the next hearing on June 21, of the steps taken by it following the June 10 attack on the junior doctors at Kolkata’s N R S Medical College and Hospital.
The Indian Medical Association has called for a nationwide strike on June 17.
In hospitals such as R G Kar and SSKM, senior doctors gathered at the campus to express wholehearted support for the agitating junior doctors and demanded that the chief minister apologises for the statements she made on Thursday against the agitators.
“The number of resignations is growing by the hour. At least 60 professors, associate and assistant professors have already written in, expressing their desire to resign. And that number is likely to go up,” said Debarati Bardhan, a doctor of R G Kar at 2 pm on Friday.
“For the past few years, attacks on doctors have happened repeatedly. Instead of understanding our concern for the lack of safety, the chief minister threatened us on Thursday,” said Nirmal Bera, the head of psychiatry in North Bengal Medical College and Hospital.
”On Thursday night, some senior TMC leaders demanded we lift the strike. They abused and even threatened to kill us,” alleged Arpan Mukherjee, a house staff of Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital.
Mamata Banerjee’s party Trinamool Congress denies the charge and insists that the doctors were being prompted.
”There is no question of threatening any junior doctor. On Thursday night, after a discussion with us, they agreed to lift the strike. But later, they might have been instigated to change their opinion,” said Murshidabad TMC MP, Abu Taher Khan.
During the day, members of Kolkata’s civil society stood by the agitating doctors. Film director-actor Aparna Sen, theatre personality Kaushik Sen and composer Debojyoti Mishra went to NRS Medical College and Hospital and urged the chief minister to soften her stand, speak to the doctors and find a solution. In the afternoon, the doctors held a protest march in the city.
In a post that contradicted the CM’s stand, Trinamool Lok Sabha MP Deepak Adhikari posed a question on social media: “Why would those who save our lives, be attacked repeatedly?”
The stir was triggered when a doctor, Paribaha Mukherjee was critically injured in the head after he was beaten up in NRS by the relatives of an octogenarian patient Md Shayeed, who died on Monday.
The agitation spread throughout the state from Tuesday onwards.
After remaining silent for two days, Mamata Banerjee, on Thursday visited SSKM Hospital and not only ruled out talks with the agitators but also threatened to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act against the doctors, eviction from hostels (if they did not return to work) and punitive action. She had also alleged that they are falling prey to instigation by political parties.
On Friday, CM Banerjee did not make any comment except for pointing out that a protesting doctor at NRS medical college on Thursday was attached to a hospital in Salt Lake, and was, therefore, an outsider. She was underscoring the point she made on Thursday, that outsiders had joined the agitation.