Connecting as only she can with ordinary folk, the chief minister in Mamata Banerjee transformed into a chief manager as she not only supervised rescue operations but also managed the crowd and ensured speedy release of bodies from the SSKM hospital after autopsy.
Banerjee cancelled all her other engagements and camped at the hospital with her ministerial colleagues for over seven hours till late night, virtually going without food the whole day, officials and eyewitnesses said.
Before coming to the SSKM hospital, she visited the Advanced Medicare Research Institute - more popularly known by its acronym AMRI - hospital Friday morning, though her presence initially led to chaos.
Family members of the patients and onlookers lunged towards her, creating a stampede- like situation which prompted the police to take action.
"This is not the time for lathi (baton) charge. Is this a place for fighting?" thundered Banerjee at the officers and in the same breath urged the people to stay calm and not to hinder rescue work. Holding a mike, she also assured action against the guilty.
"It is a criminal offence. So many people have been killed. The hospital authorities are not only guilty of negligence but also of killing the people. Their licence will be cancelled and the guilty will be arrested," she announced.
However, Banerjee was not welcomed by many who considered her presence at the hospital more of a hindrance in the rescue work. "Because Mamata is here, the ambulances cannot go towards the annexe building. Please ask her to shift to another road," shouted a distraught relative of a victim.
She also visited several other hospitals where the injured patients were admitted and ensured proper medical care and attention was given to them.
Banerjee kept on commanding and urging the SSKM hospital authorities to expedite the procedural formalities.
"Please complete the post-mortem at the earliest and get the formalities completed soon," Banerjee said repeatedly over a microphone to the officials concerned.
In the worst fire tragedy in any hospital in India, 90 patients and staffers were killed in the city's AMRI Hospital when a blaze engulfed its annexe building early Friday, trapping dozens of helpless patients while doctors and others fled to safety.
The tragedy also witnessed the coming together of two political arch rivals when the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state secretary Biman Bose visited the hospital.
When Bose enquired of the chief minister about the situation, Banerjee put her hand on his to assure him that her government was doing whatever was required to mitigate the miseries of the grieving families.
Bose, expressing shock and grief over the tragedy, said he was not here to play any blame-game but to extend support to the government and the families in their hour of grief.
Banerjee also asked her men to arrange food for the doctors, police officers and other officials who had been working tirelessly since morning.
She stayed at the hospital late in the night till most of the bodies were handed over to the relatives. Before leaving, she instructed ministers to ensure the injured were treated well.
"Before leaving, Didi (Banerjee) asked us to go to the various hospitals where the injured are kept early in the morning and ensure they get proper medical attention," Sports Minister Madan Mitra said Saturday.
On Banerjee's order, a life insurance helpdesk has also been set up at the Dhakuria branch of the AMRI Hospital to help the families in claiming the insured amount of those who lost life in the tragedy.
Along with announcing a compensation of Rs 300,000 each to families of the victims and Rs 10,000 each for the final rites, Banerjee said the government will arrange for railway and airway conveyance for the families to transport the bodies to distant places.
Kolkata: A chief minister sitting under a tree or on a cheap plastic chair outside a hospital morgue for hours helping grieving relatives cope with a personal tragedy is not a familiar sight for those used to the pompous ways of Indian politicians. But West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee did exactly that in the aftermath of the AMRI hospital fire holocaust.
First Published: Saturday, December 10, 2011, 15:56