Kolkata, June 13 (IANS) Facing noisy demonstrations from striking junior doctors, an angry West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday gave them a four-hour ultimatum to withdraw their strike and even threatened to promulgate the stringent Essential Services Maintenance Act to restore normalcy in the hospitals where services have been paralysed for over two days due to the protests.
However, the young medicos refused to budge, and demanded she come to the NRS Medical College and Hospital - the epicentre of the protests - and tender an apology for having cast aspersions on them.
Banerjee visited the state-run Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial (SSKM) Hospital around noon, as the protesting doctors continued to raise slogans, shouting "We want justice".
They almost circled Banerjee, and held aloft placards and posters, saying "Give us a safe working environment", but the large posse of police personnel managed to make way for her.
Addressing the protesting doctors, Banerjee said: "One cannot become a doctor by denying service to the patients. I ask you all to join duty by 2 p.m. and normalise the situation within four hours. If you continue such disturbance, then the government hostel facility will be taken away". The outsiders are coming here (at the hospitals) and creating a disturbance," she said.
Banerjee warned if the disturbance continued, "strong action" would be taken as per law.
"If they do not resume work, we will take action after 2 p.m. There is the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act and it is the Supreme Court's order that doctors cannot go on strike," Banerjee said.
The Chief Minister's harsh words led to the opening of the emergency services at the SSKM, where senior doctors stepped in to attend to the serious patients.
But there was a hardening of posture on the part of the striking doctors, who called a general body meeting and decided to continue the strike and demanded the Chief Minister come to NRS and tender an unconditional apology.
The doctors claimed their agitation was not meant to deprive patients of treatment but was for the general good of the people as their demands included a proper infrastructure in the hospitals.
Often due to lack of an adequate setup at the hospitals, the junior doctors become the "soft target", they said.
"The Chief Minister's words are laced with threats. The cease-work could have been controlled had she paid a visit here and given a patient hearing to our demands. We will carry on our movement as our demands haven't been fulfilled," one of the protesting doctors said.
They also condemned the incident of four junior doctors being injured due to stone pelting at Burdwan Medical College and Hospital on Wednesday while they were protesting against the NRS incident.
Asked about Banerjee's allegations that she could sense a BJP and CPI(M) conspiracy behind the strike, a junior doctor representative said: "Now for a petty political reason she is trying to divert the whole thing. If she is bothered about the common people, she must come to NRS".
"The Chief Minister should unconditionally apologise for her words. How can she say that we are outsiders, urban Naxalites, CPI(M) cadre and BJP workers? We are here to provide services and she is only trying to protect the accused by diverting the issue," added another doctor.
The protests erupted at the state-run NRS Hospital on Tuesday morning bringing the regular services to a standstill, after a junior doctor was allegedly beaten up by the kin of a 75-year-old patient who died there late on Monday night.
The family members of the deceased patient alleged medical negligence. An intern named Paribaha Mukherjee sustained a serious skull injury in the attack and has been admitted in the intensive care unit of the Institute of Neurosciences in Kolkata's Park Circus area.