Mamata Banerjee’s standoff with the Congress over the location of the super-speciality hospital on the lines of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) could cost West Bengal dear. Didi wants the venue shifted from the Congress bastion of Raiganj in North Dinajpur to Kalyani in Nadia district; something that the Congress is fighting tooth and nail to avoid. This disagreement has negatively impacted the state causing a delay of nine-long years since the announcement of the project. With appalling healthcare facilities in the state, such indefinite delay would only be detrimental. This is set to be the state Congress’ pitch ahead of the crucial Panchayat polls. The Centre had approved Rs 823 crore to set up the AIIMS-like hospital which would have 960 beds and 39 speciality and super-speciality clinics at Raiganj on February 5, 2009.
The Centre too is unwilling to cower down to Didi’s wishes especially after she quit UPA II in a huff over the recent economic reforms. Buoyed by Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s recent comment that “there was no question of shifting the proposed AIIMS hospital from Raiganj”, the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee (WBPCC) hopes to use this “emotive” issue to counter the TMC Chief’s ‘poribartan’ wave. “The entire north Bengal is reacting to this issue; it’s an emotive issue. This AIIMS-like hospital would be beneficial for the entire eastern region and patients from even Bihar, Jharkhand and the north-eastern states could come for treatment. This delay is just Banerjee’s stubbornness. She knows that it will be a gain for the Congress ahead of the Panchayat polls and could harm the TMC,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, President, WBPCC to The Sunday Standard.
The Bengal Congress unit has already strengthened its war-cry, organising agitations, meetings and door-to-door interactions with voters at the local level. But the main thrust will come only after Durga Puja. The WBPCC led by Bhattacharya and party MPs Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury and Deepa Dasmunsi hope to take the battle right up to the doors of the Writers’ Building. Dasmunsi, a well-known Didi-hater and the party’s MP from Raiganj, is believed to have taken it upon herself to up the ante. The AIIMS issue is also the Congress’ trump card to counter Banerjee’s various anti-Congress campaigns such as FDI in retail, pension and insurance. The Congress is urging the TMC-led government to start another hospital in Kalyani and to allow the northern region to have the AIIMS-like hospital. “Kalyani is near Kolkata and people from there can come to the city for treatment. But where will the people from Murshidabad, North and South Dinajpur, Malda and Cooch Behar go? Let the state government make another one,” said Bhattacharya.
“Of the total land required for the hospital, the number of the farmers there we’ve met are around 55 to 60 and they are all willing to give up their land. That’s why I said to them that while in Singur and Nandigram farmers agitated against forcible land acquisition, here they are rallying to give their land,” added Bhattacharya. The proposed hospital requires 100 acres of land which would cost around Rs 15 crore. “The farmers are ready to even donate land but then a no-objections certificate would be required from the state government. The farmers who are extremely poor would also forfeit their compensation. Therefore we’re not keen on this option,” he said.