Friday, June 11, 2010


From a no-cost hospital to a super-specialty medical facility for the poor – retrenched workers of a sick steel company in West Bengal have masterminded the impossible, writes Chandrasekhar Bhattacharjee
It is a low-cost hospital where humanity breathes in all its glory. At the helm of affairs are a bunch of workers who lost their jobs when the sick Indo Japan Steel Company in Belur, West Bengal, downed its shutters for good.

Swami Vivekananda’s famed Belur Math is just a few meters away and those who run the Shramajeevi Hospital are clearly inspired by the great man’s words: “Who serves people serves God”.

The Shramajeevi Hospital has had a deep impact. Ask truck driver Umashankar. He was in danger of losing both his legs after a speeding car hit him in Durgapur in the early 1990s. At the NRS Hospital in Kolkata he was told that his legs, which had six cracks, would have to be amputated. But in Shramajeevi he was treated for two months and his legs were back to normal. His total bill was Rs 8,000. Umashankar is back at the wheels.

Mohammad Mehyor, 14, had his oesophagus severely damaged after he consumed hazardous acid while working in a factory. Wheeled into the hospital a few days later, his life was in danger. Doctors replaced his oesophagus with a piece of his large intestine. He is 21 today and leading a normal life.

A bypass surgery at this hospital costs no more than Rs 25,000 while private hospitals in Kolkata and elsewhere charge at least Rs 1 lakh. “The heart operation unit started about four years back and has already performed 300 bypass surgeries. At least 20 of these operations have been done completely free of cost,” said Dr Anil Saha, secretary of the Belur Shramajeevi Swasthya Prakalpa Samiti.

he Samiti now plans to build a 500-bed super-speciality hospital at Belu Milki village near Singur to serve lakhs of poor and working people. The new project is being envisaged as something more than just a hospital.

In the process of building the existing hospital, the workers were led by the sole union. It had no political affiliation. In the early 1980s, the secondary steel factory was in the throes of a crisis and went through a cycle of closures and re-openings. “Our neighbours helped us a lot during that period. But once the factory reopened, we would forget their good deeds, said Phani Gopal Bhattacharjee, the mentor of the hospital.

It was to repay the kindness of the neighbours that the workers of the factory came up with the idea of a free weekly medical check-up for the poor. The exercise began in 1982 in a Hindi primary school. “We soon expanded the scope of the operation to include eye surgery camps and minor surgeries,” said Bhattacharjee.

Junior doctors, who were agitating at that point against the authorities not for better wages but improved medical services in government hospitals, stepped forward to help the workers realise their dream of providing affordable healthcare to the poor.
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Source :
IIPM Editorial, 2009

An IIPM and Professor Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist) Initiative

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