Doctors in West Bengal call off strike

Our Bureau Kolkata | Updated on June 18, 2019 Published on June 17, 2019

Medical students and doctors hold placards during a strike in protest to condemn the attack on some of their colleagues in West Bengal. File Photo   -  PTI

Decision after the Chief Minister accepted the demand unconditionally

Agitating junior doctors in West Bengal called off their week-long stir following assurances of safety by the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee. This came on Monday, a day when a nationwide cease-work by doctors crippled outdoor patient services (OPD) across hospitals in the country.

The protests here began on June 11, a day after junior doctors at the Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital (NRS) in Kolkata was allegedly assaulted by the relatives of a deceased patient following allegations of medical negligence. One of the doctors received serious skull injuries. The agitation spread from NRS to all medical colleges of the State. It snowballed into a major pan-India movement with the medical fraternity, like Indian Medical Association (IMA) and doctors at AIIMS, supporting it.

The IMA’s one-day strike call on Monday brought OPD services to a halt in all government and private hospitals in the country. Resident doctors at AIIMS had also threatened to go an indefinite cease work if demands of agitating doctors of Bengal were not met.

“Amar lokkhi bhai-bonera join back work. Withdraw the strike. (My dear younger brother and sisters, please get back to work.),” Chief Minister, Banerjee said as she repeated her appeal to the agitating junior doctors.

As many as 31 junior doctors (28 representing the 14-odd medical college and hospitals of the State and three other representatives) met the Chief Minister at the State secretariat for a nearly two-hour-long on-camera meeting.

“We are calling off the cease-work and will resume work soon. We are thankful to the medical fraternity and the common people for extending their support to us,” a statement by the agitating doctors, issued late in the evening, said.

“The CM is in agreement that doctors cannot be assaulted at any cost,” a spokesperson of the doctors added.

Hard bargain

The stir spiralled into a full-blown crisis when Banerjee threatened stringent action against agitating doctors if they failed to resume work by 2 pm on June 13. She maintained that outsiders were involved in the movement and pointed out that the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) could be imposed. It was then senior doctors across state-run hospitals joined-in and started submitting resignations en-masse. Over 500 senior doctors had resigned by Friday. Civil society lent its support too.

By Saturday, the West Bengal government had been criticised by the Centre and the Union Home Ministry issuing an advisory. The Governor, KN Tripathi too urged Banerjee to find a solution. Subsequently, the State Government softened down. The agitating doctors were assured that there would be no police action against agitating doctors and no imposition of ESMA.

Throughout Sunday, hectic parleys were carried out between agitators and the State government representatives. Agitators finally agreed to meet Banerjee at a venue of her choice but maintained that meetings will be held in the presence of media. After initial reluctance, the State government agreed to the conditions, finally signalling that a resolution was round the corner.

Apart from the issue of safety, doctors pointed out to the political pressure on junior doctors to give priority treatment, clearing confusion over scope of State welfare schemes relating to treatment and other grievances relating to doctor intimidation and police inaction in this regard.

Demands accepted

Banerjee, unconditionally, accepted all demands. She assured them of steps like getting police protection at hospitals, a grievance redressal system, having helplines, and also restricting entry of persons in government hospitals especially with patients.

“Some of the steps may take time. But, we will put them in-place. The meeting was successful. I know they (junior doctors) will join back work,” the CM said after the meeting.

Meanwhile, celebration began at NRS, epicentre of the protests with students shouting victory slogans.


Also read: Healthcare services hit as doctors pan-India go on strike

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Published on June 17, 2019
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