September 27, 2020

TRIPURA: BJP Must Stop Interfering in Health Admin & Hospital Management

Haripada Das

THE ruling BJP in Tripura must stop its illegal and unethical interference in the health administration as well as in hospital management amid the coronavirus pandemic. It should stop playing with people’s lives and take urgent measures that are necessary for restoration of people’s confidence in government-run hospitals. The BJP-led government must urgently appoint required number of doctors and nurses and stop showing disregard for frontline Covid-19 warriors. CPI(M) state secretary Gautam Das made these demands in a press conference on September 19.

Lashing out at the naked interference of the ruling party in the health administration, Das said that BJP MP Pratima Bhowmik had camped in GB Pant Hospital, along with some of her party followers, by virtue of being the president of the Patients Welfare Committee since September 11. This committee is assigned the task of only making suggestions to the government for providing better service to patients. But Bhowmik was seen conducting administrative meetings with health officers and doctors and giving unauthorised directions to them. At a time when frontline Covid-19 warriors have been fighting the pandemic risking their own lives despite severe staff shortage and other limitations, Bhowmik had shown the audacity to say that 15 per cent of hospital staff doesn’t know at all how to work and another 15 per cent intentionally did not work. Such type of unwanted and disheartening remarks, Gautam Das said, may cause further deterioration in the health service that is limping on.

A video post on social media got viral in the state where a Covid-19 patient was seen complaining about lack of oxygen in the Covid-19 Ward in GB Pant Hospital. In senseless remarks, Bhowmik said the patient was a drug addict and was criticising for the absence of drug. Ultimately, the patient died in the hospital. In the meantime, BJP state president Manik Saha inaugurated a party office inside the hospital in the name of ‘Help Desk’. This help desk is manned and managed exclusively by BJP workers. The task of this help desk is to keep watch over the hospital periphery and prevent any type of social media post that may cause embarrassment for the ruling BJP.

Gautam Das expressed serious concern over the health of Dr Pradip Bhowmik, assistant professor of Agartala Government Medical College and Hospital, who was infected with the novel coronavirus. His condition was so serious that he had to be put on ventilation in GB Pant Hospital. Being unable to tackle his deteriorating condition, doctors suggested the government to shift him to Kolkata by air ambulance. But the government outright rejected to sanction fare for air ambulance. Hence the family of Dr Bhowmik themselves afforded the fare for shifting him to Kolkata. Dr Bhowmik was seen discharging duty in Covid-19 ward despite the risk of contracting the infection. This reflects the neglect of the government towards frontline Covid-19 warriors. 

As on September 22, Tripura has recorded a total of 22,274 coronavirus infections and 248 deaths. Its positivity and case fatality rates are higher than many big states and the highest in the Northeast. On one hand, the graphs of infections and deaths are going up in an unbridled manner and on the other, doctors and administrative officers attached with the health department are tendering their resignations one after another. Being unable to bear with extra-constitutional interference of the ruling party leaders and disrespect, Dr Debashish Roy, medical superintendent of GB Pant Hospital, tendered his resignation to the government. By this time, IAS officer and additional chief secretary in charge of health department SK Rakesh is also taking premature superannuation from next month. Resignation letter has been submitted by Dr Radha Debbarma, director of preventive medicine and family welfare department. The former superintendent and deputy superintendent of GB Pant Hospital have already left after giving up their posts. There are reports that some other doctors are contemplating to resign to get out of this suffocating atmosphere arising out of political interference by the ruling party.

Taking note of distressing reports in the media about the Covid-19 pandemic, the Tripura High Court took up a suo motu case in public interest on September 11 and issued notice to the state government asking for clarification on eight specific points with regard to the pandemic management. In reply to the court’s queries, the government, citing a report of a central team, stated that the reasons behind a sudden spurt in Covid-19 positive cases in the state are: 1) the people don’t use mask in proper manner, 2) they don’t adhere to the social distancing norms. Citing the reason for increase of Covid-19 deaths, the government stated that the patients are brought to hospital in the last moment in a very critical condition of beyond treatment. Not happy with the government affidavit, the high court sought further clarification on certain issues of Covid-19 management in the state.

But the government, in its affidavit, resorted to hide utter failure and wrong policies responsible for this unprecedented chaotic situation. The government, in its affidavit, hid the fact that a major cause for the sudden rise in Covid-19 cases in the state is the wrong policy of testing one out of five migrant workers who returned from other states. Through this testing policy blunder, many positive cases were set free to spread the virus in the society. Secondly, the ruling party has been conducting political programmes grossly violating the Covid-19 norms. There are hundreds of social media posts clearly showing violations of social distancing and mask norms in the presence of the chief minister. With regard to rise in deaths, the government did not mention in its affidavit the faulty oxygen supply system in the hospital. A charitable organisation and ONGC had donated some ventilators for treatment of critical Covid-19 patients. But the government did not install those ventilators in any hospital. This fact was also hidden from the high court.
So long, the government was denying complaints of patients, and media reports about faulty oxygen supply system in GB Pant Hospital. After a good number of deaths due to lack of sufficient oxygen in Covid-19 ward, the government has finally admitted the reality and awarded a contract to a Kolkata-based company for commissioning the oxygen system in the hospital. Gautam Das held the government solely responsible for this unprecedented crisis. When the situation demands cooperation of and help from all parties, sections and communities to fight the pandemic in a collective way, it is regrettable that the state does not have a dedicated health minister. The chief minister, who holds no less than 28 portfolios, is also managing the health department in this crisis hour.

Near about four lakh people of various categories have been getting social pension since the Left Front regime in the state.  The government has recently announced that more than 49,000 beneficiaries of social pension would be terminated and 30,000 new beneficiaries would be selected. Sharply reacting to the decision, Gautam Das demanded that the government publish the list of terminated beneficiaries citing reasons of their termination and that the selection of new beneficiaries be made in a transparent manner.