KOLKATA: Rangan Dey, 24, is still coming to terms with his father’s death. Tapan Kumar Dey, 59, had been admitted to the posh super-specialty AMRI Hospital for cancer treatment. He was to be discharged on December 10 last year; but unfortunately it was not to be. In the wee hours of December 9, a devastating fire originating in the basement ravaged the hospital, mercilessly choking to death 91 patients; Tapan was one of them. Four months later, the victims’ kin have watched helplessly as one by one, all the arrested AMRI directors, except one, are granted bail.
R S Agarwal, R S Goenka, Manish Goenka, Prashant Goenka, Ravi Todi, Dr Mani Chhetri and Dr Pranab Dasgupta are all out on bail, after their defence established that the directors were not involved in the daily functioning of the hospital. Three directors, Rahul Todi, Preeti Surekha and Aditya Agarwal, are still absconding. The victims’ families have little choice but to accept this inevitability as they wait for promises to fructify. “Once the `3 lakh government compensation was given, there has been no other help from the government. Justice still eludes us and the rest is all for show. Even the government jobs that we were to get haven’t materialised,” said Rangan. At least 36 families have accepted Mamata Banerjee’s offer of a government job.
The victims’ families formed a group, Human Health Right Forum (HHRF), once they resolved to refuse the `5 lakh compensation being offered by the hospital authorities. “The hospital authorities approached us offering `5 lakh. We decided to go to consumer court when we learnt that the hospital management was going to claim `195 crore in insurance,” said Alok Chakraborty, Vice-President of HHRF, who lost his 67-year-old brother-in-law Jawaharlal Ganguly.
The families also fear that the directors are now free to influence the course of law. “For them money is nothing, but for us justice is more important. They are extremely affluent people and can buy everything and everyone. We fear that they can now influence the case,” said Prashanta Pandit, who was stopped from rescuing his 55-year-old father Jyotish Chandra Pandit as he slowly suffocated to death on the fourth floor. Some victims allege that the hospital authorities are still trying to “buy out” the families by persuading them to accept the compensation. “We have reason to believe that some families, especially those outside Kolkata, are still being approached with money and a family in West Midnapore has accepted it too. This weakens our case,” said a member of the HHRF. “We have tried to meet Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee several times and submitted several letters too but haven’t received any response. These directors can influence the case, threaten people and buy witnesses,” added Chakraborty.
The HHRF’s main aim now is to ensure that Preeta Banerjee, Vice President (Administration) and Sajid Hossain, the night administrator, who were in-charge of the hospital on December 9, don’t get bail. The families want the duo held accountable for the inaction by the hospital staff in alerting the fire brigade and in initiating rescue work, which led to the loss of crucial time. “A team from our side is currently visiting Delhi and consulting Supreme Court lawyers,” said Chakraborty.
Another blow to the bereaved families has been the sudden transfer of Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Damayanti Sen as Deputy Inspector General of Police (Training), Barrackpore. “She was actively involved in heading this case and had been guiding us a lot. We don’t know why she was suddenly transferred,” said Chakraborty. State Law Minister Moloy Ghatak, however, denied any concerns. “Bail depends on a lot of things and not only on the merit of the case. If the accused are old or won’t go absconding or there is no chance of an early judgement, bail can be given,” said Ghatak told The Sunday Standard, explaining the reason behind the directors getting relief. “This case is important because people of sane minds caused the death of a large number of people due to their negligence… There can’t be any problem due to Sen’s transfer. The day she has to be present in the court, she will be there,” added Ghatak. The families of 91 families till then wait for justice, hoping against hope that this isn’t a case of ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’.