New Delhi: The deadlock between the West Bengal government and the agitating doctors continued as medicos on Saturday again turned down Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s offer to hold talks at the state secretariat. The doctors said they feared for their security and rejected her appeal to end their protest, which continued for the fifth day.
With medical services affected since June 11, Banerjee on Saturday urged the agitating doctors to resume work and said her government has accepted all their demands. Banerjee, who also holds the portfolio of the health ministry in the state cabinet, said although she wanted to speak to the doctors on the second day of the protest, they had refused.
“I wanted to speak to the agitating doctors the very next day. They refused to speak to me. I was humiliated but never spoke of this before,” she said.
Urging the doctors to resume duty, Banerjee said the state administration will not invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against the protesting doctors. She also said the government is taking necessary steps to prevents incidents of violence against the doctors.
Under ESMA, employees in a long list of “essential services” like post, railway, airport and port operations are prohibited from going on strike. Banerjee cited instances of steps taken against doctors in similar situation by other states, adding that the West Bengal government had not taken any tough action against them as she does not want to hamper their careers.
“We have already adhered to all legitimate demands and are open to any other additional demands that may be there. We want an amicable solution to this problem,” Banerjee said, adding that the administration has shown patience and restraint in the current situation.
“We have accepted all the demands of the doctors and have taken action. The police had intervened immediately and stopped the situation from spiralling out of control,” she said.
Banerjee said the ‘ agitation has caused inconvenience to patients across the state. “People are dying. I went to SSKM Hospital to see whether the Emergency Unit was operational. I was humiliated by the doctors, they misbehaved. Yet, I asked the police not to take any action against them,” she claimed.
Between Thursday and Saturday afternoon, more than 500 government-employed doctors tendered their resignations in an unprecedented show of solidarity with their striking junior colleagues. However, Banerjee said the resignations hold no value as per law.
“I have consulted my health secretary and he said action can be taken if there are individual resignations. But there is no law to deal with mass resignations,” she said.
Banerjee, who visited the state-run SSKM Hospital on Thursday amid slogans of “we want justice”, had contended that outsiders were creating disturbances in the medical colleges and the ongoing agitation is a conspiracy by the CPI(M) and the BJP.
The medical fraternity in Bengal has been at loggerheads with the government after two junior doctors were assaulted by the kin of a patient who died at the NRS Hospital on the night of June 10 after alleged negligence. One of them, Dr Paribaha Mukhopadhyay, was critically injured and has been undergoing treatment at Kolkata’s Institute of Neurosciences. He is now said to be in a stable condition.
West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi on Saturday also wrote to Banerjee, advising her to take immediate steps to provide security to medicos and reach a solution to the impasse rising out of junior doctors’ agitation across the state. Banerjee later said she has appraised Tripathi about the steps taken to resolve the impasse.
Tripathi advised her to take the doctors into confidence about the arrangements of their security as well as the progress of investigation into the incidents of assault on them. This will help create a suitable atmosphere and “enable the doctors to resume their duties”, read his letter.
Tripathi on Friday had said that Banerjee had failed to respond when he tried to contact her to discuss the issue.
The Ministry of Home Affairs also issued an advisory seeking a report on the stir. Reacting sharply to it, Banerjee said such directions should be “sent to states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat where several murders have been reported since the last couple of years”.