By bappaditya paul
Late on Thursday night when Kolkata residents squirmed in their houses as a squall raged through the metropolis at 96 kmph, 65-year-old Mr Kalipada Mondal huddled with several others under a passage of Ronald Ross Building at SSKM Hospital trying to avoid the Nor’wester’s wrath. The effort went in vain. They all got drenched in the thundershower that followed.
Mr Mondal, a farmer and a resident of Gangajalghati in Bankura, is one of the hundreds of patients’ relatives who are compelled to spend nights on the passages of various buildings in the SSKM Hospital campus.
This is because the much acclaimed “super specialty hospital” does not have a night-shelter, where these poor people coming from far-flung districts can sleep at night.
“We cannot afford renting a room and have no other option but to sleep on the passages. The lone pay-and-use bathroom is overcrowded for better part of the day. We are compelled to take a shower in a common tap in full public gaze. This is such a disgrace for a woman,” said Ms Chabi Ruidas of Indus in Burdwan, who has been living under the passage at Ronald Ross Building for the past 24 days while her granddaughter, Aparna, is being treated in the burn ward.
There are 10-odd families who spend the nights huddled together under the Ronald Ross Building alone. Any new patient party, wanting a space at this “best place” in the SSKM campus, negotiate with existing occupants to inform them in advance whenever a vacancy surfaces.
“I don’t understand, why the authorities cannot build a night-shelter for people like us? Like the Burdwan Medical College, SSKM administration, too, can construct a multi-storied building and leave the ground floor for use as a night-shelter with attached bath. This way, they will get more space and people like us will also benefit,” said Mr Prabir Mullick of Shibrampur in Burdwan, who has been living in the waiting shed for the past 10 days. His brother-in-law, Mr Mani Shankar Baul, is admitted in the plastic surgery ward.
“Please try and make the government realise the inhuman situation that scores of patient parties pass through everyday,” urged Mr Tapan Naskar of Beradighi, Howrah.
SSKM Hospital director Pradip Mitra ruled out the possibility of constructing a night-shelter in the campus. “We have 1768 sanctioned beds and if we start offering night accommodation to all patient parties, the hospital would turn into a langarkhana. Besides, we already have three waiting-sheds, let relatives sit through the night there,” he said.
The state PWD has prepared a project for building a night-shelter some half a kilometer away on DL Khan Road, he said, dismissing the argument that patient parties need to stay in the campus for any emergency concerning their patients.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece first appeared in The Statesman on 7 April 2012.)