Words defy thoughts as i sit on my chair trying to put the pieces together. Friday morning on 9 December 2011 was different. The propensity of the AMRI tragedy did not strike me first, but as day progressed, the shame, the anguish, the disgust for being human grew large!
How the tragedy unfolded on the ill fated morning is chronicled here. Let this tragedy give us the resolve to be vigilant, and keep putting pressure on the system to deliver on safety for the citizens and not let AMRI become just another annual mourning ritual. To start with, let justice be delivered to those souls who trusted the hospital with their health, invested money for their care and choked to death instead.
For justice to be delivered, the guilty must be punished. Some questions that have been doing the rounds in my mind since that Black Friday, may in some way help the case.
1. Eye witnesses, surviving patients say they had smelt fumes since 2.15AM in the morning. But hospital authorities maintain the fire started at 3.30AM. Why is the hospital administration trying to hush up the “actual” time of the spark?
2. Even if fire started at 3.30AM, why did the hospital not inform Fire Brigade immediately? Why did they wait till 4.15AM to call the fire services team? Why was the police not informed?
3. When local residents came to help rescue trapped patients, doors were shut on their face. Security guards even beat up those who tried to enter forcefully. Even family members of patients were turned away saying situation was under control. (Times Of India reports, a guard was punished by hospital authorities for helping those who came for rescue operations.) Is this the way a hospital ensures emergency services?
4. Why were the hospital directors not informed (as per their confession to the police) that the hospital was on fire? And if they were indeed informed, why did they not immediately come to site and take charge?
5. By 6AM, none of the hospital staff were to be seen at the scene of tragedy (barring a few who gave up their life saving patients). Not a single helpline number was issued by authorities nor were bereaved and anxious families cooperated with. Is this “healthcare”?
6. Fire Brigade reached the site at about 5AM, but came without any equipment (lessons were not learnt from the Stephen Court tragedy). What took them so much time to arrive is a million dollar question, given their branch is stones throw away from the hospital (and at that time of the day, chances of any traffic jam does not arise).
7. The licence of the Annexe building that caught fire has been cancelled. But how were the licences given in the first place? Experts say there was a fault with the building plan, and such a construction should not have been allowed on such a small space. Did the administration turn a blind eye in 1994? In all certainty yes (thanks to the political allegiances of the directors). What did the new regime do in the last seven months to rectify the errors committed by our comrades?
8. The Fire Services Ministry says they had issued warnings to the hospital not to use basement as store room. In an inspection in September, they served a 3 months notice, to empty the basement, to the hospital.The deadline ended on 29 November 2011. Why was no action taken after that?
9. Apart from setting up committees and making new laws, what are the plans of the government to bring all buildings in Kolkata (and Bengal) under fire security blanket? Burrabazar can serve as an example. The buildings there are nothing short of an AMRI or Stephen Court waiting to happen. Political muscle flexing by saffronites and vote bank politics has prevented development of Kolkata’s business and trading hub for long. How far is the govt willing to go to make places like these “safe”?
10. Over the last two decades, Bengal saw a rapid decline in the healthcare facilities in the government hospitals. Hardly any NEW hospital was built by the government in the last decade. Instead private players were allowed to mushroom in this Communist state at will, flouting norms, without requisite accreditation. AMRI exposes the falsehood of “super specialty” hospitals. How does the government plan to bring these defaulters to book?
11. Setting the private hospitals apart, what stops the government from taking adequate measures in government run hospitals too? Infrastructure in these places is far from satisfactory. If a fire emanates out of basement at SSKM (which too is in use a store house) who will our CM put behind bars?
12. Last but not the least, although we have seen marked improvements in the infrastructure of the fire services department in last one year, much needs to be done yet. Lack of preparedness of the fire fighters cost some precious lives on 9 December. Hope that shall not be repeated.
People of West Bengal ushered in a new regime with the hope of change. We all have our hopes pinned on the Chief Minister who set an example of astute administrator in the wake of a tragedy on Friday. The castles of desire that have been built around her, failing the people would amount to the writer of this blog taking up the pen again, in anguish, for failed promises. May God Bless Bengal that we never see such a day.