SALEEM NAIK, A DOCTOR AT THE BHOPAL MEMORIAL HOSPITAL ANSWERS CRITICS OF THE STRIKE. PICTURES ARE FROM TODAY’S DEMONSTRATION BY GAS VICTIMS IN SUPPORT OF THE STRIKING HOSPITAL STAFF.
Survivors organisations arrive at the scene of the protest
The other day there was a column in the Hindustan Times about the Hippocratic oath. The respected columnist had written that doctors had forgotten their pledge and were working against the basic principle of their fraternity. Their agitation had led to a lot of problems to the patients. It also wrote that the doctors were fighting for money and the patients had to bear the brunt of their actions. With due respect and regards to the senior columnist I feel I would be failing in my duty if I don’t reply to the various questions that were raised by him.
Doctors are not politicians. They are not even professional agitators. Their temperament demands that they be somber and caring ladies and gentlemen with high tolerance. But they are humans too! There is a limit to their tolerance. One of our residents was working round the clock, assisting 2 cardiac surgeries a day, sleeping in the ICU, and he did it not for 48 or 72 hours but for 1 and a half months. Do you feel that he should be relieved of his duty for a couple of days? Does he have the right to live and fulfill the responsibilities of being a son and a father also? The hospital administration doesn’t think so. He is not paid anything extra for his efforts and the administration on the other hand, frames rules and conditions to make his working conditions more miserable. His contract conditions are changed in retrospect. When he goes with his problems to the Director General, the DG makes him wait for 2 hours and in the end doesn’t see him because he is busy in his research work. The poor fellow cannot talk to the trust or the trustees, as the Chairman has issued a circular stating that any such act would be considered to be an act of indiscipline. What can he expect from a trustee who calls him a ‘chaprasi’ in front of the media? How many of you would like to be in his place? Is it wrong, if he has decided to protest?
The number of patients seeking healthcare in BMHRC has increased exponentially, whereas the number of sanctioned posts remains the same. As compared to the year 2000, when we saw 27,000 patients, in 2004, the figures have gone upto 1,18,000. Due to these factors the existing staff has to work under a lot of stress and many of the employees have quit their jobs and left for other hospitals. This has resulted in a severe crisis of the staff in this hospital. 60 doctors have resigned from a single department in the last 4 years. The Cardiology ward had to be shut down, for more than one and a half month, due to shortage of staff. The senior resident doctors, who should have been 63, were not more than 25 in number when our agitation started. Why this exodus of staff? Today a time has come when all of us have resigned en masse from the institute. We have all have put our careers at stake to make you realize that the hospital is dying a slow death and it can be saved only if we all join hands and fight against the wrongs in the administration and the trust.
Police await the protestors. The survivors are not daunted.
The trust which the Hon’ Supreme Court made had Mr M N Buch, as its working trustee. The Supreme Court had specified that the working trustee should be one who has some administrative experience. We are all aware of the administrative achievements and integrity of Mr Buch, who is probably the finest administrator, our state has ever produced. After Mr Buch resigned from his post, due to personal reasons, Mr A A Siddique, a criminal lawyer, was appointed to be the working trustee by the trustees themselves, with no directions from the Hon’ Supreme court. Now, with no offence to him, Mr Siddique has no administrative experience what so ever to run even a dispensary or a departmental store, let alone a 330-bedded state of art super specialty institute, with over 500 professionally qualified employees. The hospital administration which was already handicapped by an unconcerned and inefficient Director General, who is only concerned about diverting crores of rupees into his research, which has nothing to do with the gas or the gas victims (again a violation of the directions of the Supreme Court!), got a further handicap of a selfish local trustee. The car in which Mr Siddique moves about is paid by the trust, his chauffer and his domestic helps get their salaries from the hospital, his mobile bill, phone, fax and various other expenses are paid by the trust, which was made to be a custodian of the gas victim’s money. It would be appropriate to note here that the Supreme Court has clearly directed that no trustees would take any personal benefits or perks from the trust, in any way. The hospital for them is like a hen that lays golden eggs, and they would rather sacrifice their honour, their cause but not their selfish desires and it is them who worship Mammon blindly.
Some of the workers in this hospital are made to sign blank pay receipts and they are paid less than half the amount of money than, the basic minimum wages, which the state specifies. Their provident fund and health insurance is shared between the administrators and the contractors. This matter was taken up to the Chief Minister’s office as well but neither the hospital administration nor the state government did anything.(And Mr Zamiruddin sahib talks about Lokayakut!) It was only after the employees caught the contractor red handed and threatened him with dire consequences that a part of this irregularity could be stopped. Though it is yet to be over and the hospital administration has not done anything at all to stop it. Is it wrong if someone protests?
The hospital was made to serve the gas victims. In none of the directions given by the Hon’ Supreme Court of India, has the trust been directed to treat any other patients but the gas victims. The hospital figures for the year 2005 show that every third patient who is admitted in the hospital is a paid patient. (Admitted Paid patients :Gas victims, 2308:5730) It’s an open secret that these patients get preferential treatment in the hospital. In an already understaffed hospital where the staff is overburdened with work, preferential care of the private patient automatically means neglect for the gas victim. The administration has different rules for the Gas victim and the paid patients. For instance for getting an MRI done, the gas victim patient would get a date of two months, whereas the paid patient could get it done on the same day. Final reports in form of images or films of important investigations like angiographies, endoscopies, CT scan and MRI are not given to the gas victim patients but the paid patients can have them. If a gas victim needs them, he has to pay for it. He has to pay for not the CD or the film but for the entire investigation, as they say, he has to be treated like a private patient!! Its ironical that a centre which was made to only serve the gas victims has derailed from it’s very objective and has been converted into a money making machine. The local trustee and the hospital administration are entirely responsible for this. We wish that the oppressed gas victims would come forward and fight for their rights so that the doctors could do what they are supposed to do.
Six months back there was an agitation in the hospital and when the inefficient administration had no clues of how to overcome the crisis, they decided to ruin the place. The hospital was locked up and the admitted gas victims, as well as the residential staff were asked to vacate the hospital premises within 48 hours. Patients were thrown out and 3 lives were lost. The entire city protested and they had to withdraw the notices and open up the locks but can they make those three people live again? We thought that that it was a wake up call for the sleeping administration and the dictatorial trust. But it seemed otherwise. The administration continued to sleep and so that the cries of our agony would not disturb them, they gagged us with the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), which was initially clamped for 3 months and then further extended for another 3 months. It should also be remarked here that the Chairman had given us a written assurance that he would solve most our major issues in a time duration “not exceeding one month” and it was in apprehension that of a retaliation that he used all his influence and clout to impose ESMA and then further extend it, as well. There is a judgment ( B.R. Singh case versus Union of India1989), the Hon Chairman, Justice A M Ahmadi, gave when he was a judge in the Hon’ Supreme Court which reads that, “Strike in a given situation is only a form of demonstration. There are different modes of demonstrations, e.g., go-slow, sit-in, work-to-rule, absenteeism, etc., and strike is one such mode of demonstration by workers for their rights. The right to demonstrate and, therefore, the right to strike is an important weapon in the armory of the workers. Almost all democratic countries have recognized this right.” By imposing ESMA, he has shown that he has double standards, which are different when he has to decide for someone else and different when he has to decide for himself.
I feel as much for the agony of the gas victims, who are being denied treatment because of this turmoil, as anyone else but there also something else I feel still as strongly. Bhopal memorial hospital is not like any another hospital. It is a place that was built on the tombstones of over 20,000 victims of the gas tragedy. “Homage and hope”, is our hospital’s motto. Homage to those who died and hope for those who still suffer from chronic diseases due to MIC gas exposure in the worst ever industrial disaster in history. The cause of the agitation that is right now going on in the hospital, is that this promise, which was made by the Supreme Court of India to the Bhopal gas victims had been broken and some people were using the hospital resources to fulfill their own vested interests. We realise this fact that between the crossfire of the trust and the employees, it’s the poor gas victims who are suffering but should then this terrorism of the trust be continued to go on? Who would stand up? We went to the state government who says it is not in its jurisdiction. The gas victims need to wake up. This is after all their hospital and for their welfare that we are agitating for.
The victims of the great tragedy were being victimized further by an inefficient administration of the hospital and the selfish trust that runs it. The very fact that the trust is chaired by ex Chief Justice Supreme Court of India has given it a shield of immunity from the entire Judiciary and the Government(And the columnist wants us to go to Lok Ayukta for that!!). There is no monitoring agency and no accountability over the functioning of the trust. The corpus fund, which is the main attraction, for all those corrupt people who are sticking to their seats with double seatbelts on, amounts to 375 crore rupees. It is an independent shielded organization with no judicial, administrative or public interference. The Supreme court of India appointed the monitoring committee to oversee the functioning of the hospital, from which the hospital excused itself claiming that as it’s Chairman was an ex CJ, so it didn’t require to be monitored at all!! Now the point to note is that if they had nothing to hide, then why did they excuse themselves from the monitoring committee. After all they have to be accountable as it is all public money, for which they have been made custodians.
We apologise to our patients who have to face the misery because of our agitation but we want them to realise that it is for them that this fight is on. The hospital where they turn to, when they are ill, has been taken up by a disease. The doctors have diagnosed the disease to be the corrupt and inefficient administration and the trust. It is only up to the patients to come forward and help us remove this disease from the hospital.
Mr Zamiruddin had raised some questions about the integrity of the doctors of BMHRC, here I would like to quote, “The Hippocratic oath”, Dr B Dasgupta, Hindustan Times, UK edition, August 3, 2004 in which he writes “…Perhaps these errant doctors need to visit Bhopal Memorial Hospital to relearn what doctors should be like and why they are respected enough to worship the ground they walk on”. The author whose father was given a new lease of life by the Bhopal Memorial Hospital team has voiced these views. I don’t think more needs to be said about the integrity of the doctors of this hospital or their service towards their patients. I would also like to remark that the doctors working in this hospital could get 3-4 times the salary in any good corporate hospital in a metropolis and at least 2 times the salary, if they join any another private hospital in Bhopal. So any doubts that the doctors of this hospital even think of Mammon, leave aside worshipping him, should be put to rest.
Initial years of upbringing and education by our parents, before we went to the Medical College, made us gather a few principles, which we have not been able to forget. We could only reach this stage because we learnt to stand and walk. That is what made us reach the college and that is how we are, what we are today. They also taught us never to tolerate injustice! Fight against corruption! Fight for the rights of the poor and the deprived! Fight oppression! No write up by any columnist and no power on earth can make us give up our battle against greed and corruption. We are citizens of a country, whose national emblem has it engraved, ‘Satya-mev-Jayate’, TRUTH ALWAYS TRIUMPHS. I call upon all sons of the soil to help us fight and make sure that Truth Triumphs!!