Thirty-year-old Suvankar Banerjee still grapples to come to terms with his father’s death on December 9 last year in the horrific fire at AMRI Hospitals here. Tushar Gandhi Banerjee, 56, had been admitted for a regular check-up for his bone marrow cancer treatment. “My father wasn’t in a serious condition. He simply needed to be woken up and he would have walked out of the hospital building. How could they (AMRI administration) not have called the fire brigade, they didn’t stir or inform the patients, they didn’t allow us to enter the hospital?” questions Suvankar, a year later.
Tushar and 90 other patients didn’t walk out of the hospital building. In the wee hours of that fateful day, they succumbed to toxic fumes in the absence of any help. Their families still seek answers even as they carry on with the struggle of their daily lives and the fight for justice.
The victims’ kin have received the Rs 5 lakh compensation from the state and central governments. However, the promised government job from the Mamata Banerjee government hasn’t been given to all. “There are certain provisions that don’t allow everyone to avail of the government job. For instance, several families haven’t got the job as married daughters are exempt from it. My niece, Jhilmil Sarkar isn’t getting the job as she is married,” said Alok Chakraborty who lost his 67-year-old brother-in-law Jawaharlal Ganguly in the fire.
With AMRI Hospitals gearing up for a reopening, the victims’ families promise to oppose the move. “We will definitely oppose it. We demand justice,” said 25-year-old Rangan Dey. His 59-year-old father Tapan Kumar had been admitted into the posh super-specialty AMRI Hospital for cancer treatment and was to be discharged on December 10 last year, a day after the tragic incident. The fight is a long one but the families have little hope of preventing the reopening of the hospital. “We don’t have the ability to fight them. How much can we leave our daily lives and fight the corporate power? It isn’t possible for me to travel to Kolkata frequently. My daily life doesn’t allow me to do so. We don’t have the ability to oppose the reopening of such a big hospital. There is corporate pressure on us,” said Banerjee who lives in Durgapur. “I live in Dhakuria and can see the renovation work progressing quickly. We have heard that the business group has managed to get clearances through its political connections in the ruling party,” adds Chakraborty.
The Human Health Right Forum (HHRF) formed by the victims’ families is almost defunct. The HHRF has lessons to learn from the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) who have been fighting for justice for 15 years since the fire at the Delhi cinema hall killed 59 people on June 13, 1997. “Since I’m a little distanced from the personal loss, I can take a strong stand and tell the families what to do. But our biggest problem is that the association of victims’ families is not a strong, united one. Except for 17 families who are in Kolkata, the rest are from outside the city. It’s extremely difficult to coordinate with all of them and this is weakening our case,” said Alok Chakroborty, Vice-President, HHRF.
At least 14 of the families have filed cases at the state level consumer courts demanding greater compensation from the hospital management. “There was a two-and-a-half-year-old baby whose mother died in the fire. That family is demanding Rs 98 lakh as compensation. The rest of us are demanding between Rs 40 lakh and Rs 50 lakh. Gradually all of us will be approaching the consumer court,” he said, adding that they would hold a programme on December 9.