Kolkata: The picturesque town of Kurseong in West Bengal is currently bathed in fairy lights.
Christmas is still a few weeks away, but the hilly town is all lit up to celebrate the wedding of Abesh Banerjee, the nephew of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, with a local doctor. Despite being a private affair, the wedding has stirred up controversy due to an administrative directive instructing medical professionals to attend to the healthcare needs of CM Banerjee and her heir apparent, Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee.
A medical team comprising over 100 individuals, including specialist doctors, nurses, and general practitioners from North Bengal, has currently been deputed to two luxury resorts for the event. A circular, signed by the superintendent of Kurseong Sub-Divisional Hospital has been shared widely on social media. It has details on the medial team formed to cater to the VVIPs between December 4 and 10. The team includes specialists ranging from paediatricians to ophthalmologists.
The decision to divert medical resources and personnel for a private event has sparked criticism from opposition parties.
BJP leader Subhendu Adhikari commented, “It’s like a royal family wedding. Government doctors have been made to serve the royals of the state, having been taken away from their duty to serve the commoners. How does it matter to them that people are affected?”
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Dr Sujan Chakraborty called this a gross abuse of power.
“There are many Z-category VIPs. But creating medical teams dedicated to the chief minister and her nephew for seven days is unprecedented. The chief minister arrived in north Bengal on Wednesday, two days after the medical team’s deputation. What was the team doing there [for two days] when those who needed its services were being denied treatment?” he asked.
Trinamool Congress spokesperson Kunal Ghosh has termed these allegations baseless.
The chief minister did not attend the wedding ritual but is staying at one of the resorts booked for the weeding. On Thursday, pictures of plucking teas while wearing local dress went viral on social media and were reported upon by Kolkata outlets too.
The diversion of medical resources for the VVIP wedding in Kurseong has triggered repercussions for the health system in the hills, compelling locals to seek medical attention in distant towns like Siliguri and Jalpaiguri, opposition has alleged.
“So many doctors, nurses, and health workers have been moved for seven days because of the chief minister’s family wedding ceremony. As a result, people who used to get services in government hospitals are being turned away and told that they should return after seven days. Denying them treatment for a private family function is brutal,” said Gautam Ghosh, a leader of the Chia Kaman Mazdoor Union, affiliated with Centre of Indian Trade Unions.
Expressing frustration, a doctor currently on duty said, “I have done my share of VVIP duty. But I can’t accept that they brought us to this area because of the wedding of a member of the chief minister’s family and will keep us like this for so long.”
Dr. Manas Gumta, secretary of the Association of Health Service Doctors, raised concerns about its impact on the health services of north Bengal.
He said, “It is not new to have government medical teams ready for the visit of VVIPs. But that service is not for everyone. What will happen to the health services of North Bengal in the absence of so many medical officials?”
Public health expert, Dr. Fuad Halim, who is associated with Leftist parties, said that as it is, private sector participation in West Bengal’s rural health sector is negligible. “A vast number of people are dependent on government healthcare. I hope the chief minister would understand the gravity of the situation and pay attention to filling up vacancies for doctors,” Halim added.