Kolkata: The ultra-modern glass facade AMRI hospital in Dhakuria was out of bounds for the thousands of shanty dwellers who live in its vicinity. These slum dwellers, many of whom played a crucial role in saving patients during the fire last week, want a state-run medical facility at the spot so that they can get access to affordable healthcare.

About 10,000 people live in shanties near the super-speciality hospital, where 93 people, mostly patients, choked to death due to toxic smoke from a pre-dawn fire December 9.

Asit Kumar Tikadar, who has been residing in a shanty beside one of the dingy bylanes in the area for over 22 years, said: “We did not get treatment there as we do not have money. Sometimes they (the doctors) gave us some first-aid and then referred us to public hospitals” adding “Then what is the use of this hospital?” the 45-year-old asked.

A local cable operator, requesting anonymity, stated people here wanted that the hospital be converted into a fully public facility.

AMRI sources, however, claimed that the hospital provides free first-aid treatment to the needy.

As per records with the Registrar of Companies, the state government has 1.99 percent stake in Advanced Medicare Research Institute (AMRI) Hospital, with private companies Emami and Shrachi Groups owning the remaining 98.01 percent.

The hospital was co-founded by the two private companies with the state government in 1996.

Earlier, the state-owned Niramoy Polyclinic was transferred to a consortium floated by S.K. Todi of the Shrachi Group and Swapansadhan Bose. Later, the Emami group replaced Bose.

Initially, the government had a stake of 49 percent, while the rest was with the two private groups. But as the private stakeholders injected fresh investment and built two more blocks, the state government's stake progressively decreased.

As per the ownership document, the government has two nominees on the board, with a senior official - the director of medical education - as chairman.

Rajan Jana, a labourer, resides in one of the densely-populated unplanned slums behind the hospital. The 35-year-old, who took part in the rescue operations like other slum dwellers of the Dhakuria-Panchanantala area, said: “When the fire broke out in the upper basement of the annexe building and smoke entered into the wards of the upper floors, almost all higher officials fled.”

He alleged that security guards of the hospital tried to prevent slum dwellers who rushed to the spot to rescue helpless patients from entering the premises.

Had the guards allowed them to enter at an earlier stage, lives of more patients could have been saved, he said with agony, showing his bruised palms.

“There are many graduates who reside in the area. Had the hospital been run by the government and the authorities employed local people as staff members, this kind of disaster would not have taken place,” he averred.

But the agency in charge of the hospital's security denied any negligence.

“I have heard about these allegations. But I would like to say that the security guards followed the proper fire fighting norms which state that if a fire breaks out in a building, then it should be immediately cordoned off so that no outsiders can enter except professional fire fighters,” Debajit Choudhury, proprietor of NIS security agency, which held the contract to supply security guards for the Annexe 1 building said.

Rajan's mother Gauri Jana alleged the doctors of the hospital had in the past refused to treat her five-year-old grandson when he suddenly fainted.

“They asked us to go to a public hospital. They were rude to us as we are poor,” she said.

“But the hospital should not be closed down. The government should take over control. Only then will we be able to get proper treatment from here. And local youths will also get jobs,” she said.

Local councillor Chaitali Chatterjee said: “As all the people are demanding that AMRI be turned into a government-run hospital, I will take up the matter.”

(Agencies)