On Sunday, March 29th, West Bengal police officials from Maheshtala Police Station detained Oncologist Indranil Khan for highlighting the challenges on-duty doctors have to put up with in absence of appropriate medical gear. He brought to the fore how medical staff are made to manage with raincoats instead of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) made out of thicker plastic material.
It has been alleged that Dr. Indranil Khan, who is also the vice-president of the Bengal unit of the ABVP, was illegally apprehended by the city police in the late hours of Sunday. The oncologist was kept in police custody at the Zinzira Bazar Investigation Center overnight and was released at 2 PM on Monday, March 30th, only after he took to his widely-followed social media handle and lavishly praised the government for promptly responding to the concern raised by him previously.
It all started on March 28th, when, in a series of tweets, the Bengal oncologist exposed harrowing conditions of health workers combating Covid-19 in the state. With pictures for evidence, Dr. Indranil Khan revealed how doctors were provided with raincoats to safeguard themselves from the fatal virus, while nurses were compelled to make do with bio-medical waste plastic bags.
Drawing a valid parallel between the medical staff fighting the deadly contagion with a battalion on the war front, the doctor asserted that asking the doctors to man up with raincoats which offered a fraction of the protection that a PPE does was like arming soldiers with lathis instead of guns.
He underscored that doctors and nurses of a North Bengal Medical College were going on quarantine after a patient tested positive for Covid-19. The medical staff was shown wearing raincoats which were a size small for them and left their arms and hands unprotected.
His tweets instantly became viral drawing the attention of media houses that published details on the acute shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hazmat (hazardous materials) suits in the state, which prompted the state administration to hand down transparent plastic raincoats to medical and paramedical staff combating the global pandemic. As per reports, there is also a severe scarcity of such raincoats and doctors have to continue wearing one of these at a stretch for two days, though it is recommended to have them changed every 4-5 hours.
Understandably, the tweets baring the ravaged state of West Bengal’s health infrastructure irked the administration, and led to the immediate arrest of the oncologist, leaving several critical cancer patients of the doctor unattended for hours.
Amit Malviya, head of BJP’s national Information & Technology unit, in a series of tweets explained how Dr. Khan had been illegally detained overnight, his mobile seized, and that police officials admitted this was all done on the behest of “higher-ups”.
He was picked up at 9:30pm on Sun, 29Mar and detained till 2pm the next day. No FIR or detention was shown. His mobile seized, but no record of it either. His critically ill cancer patients are being hounded. Police officials admit this being done at the behest of 'higher ups'…
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) March 31, 2020
Interestingly, Dr. Khan’s concerns were acknowledged by the WB health care department which thanked him and vowed to take steps to provide better quality PPE. Happy that the health department had taken heed of the issue raised by him, at 7.05 PM on 29 March the doctor tweeted his gratitude towards the Government and CM Mamata for taking steps to resolve the issue.
However, the Govt. still had him picked up two hours later, and he was illegally kept in police custody the entire night and till 2 PM the next day.
While in WB police custody, Dr. Indranil Khan posted another tweet at 10.50 AM on Monday wherein he praised the Government of WB, applauding them for ‘working hard’ to ensure the safety of frontline healthcare workers. He further asked everyone to ‘cooperate’ with the government, and apologised if his previous posts had created any ‘misconception’.
So the otherwise dauntless doctor had to render an ‘apology’ to the administration for drawing their attention to the lack of PPE, something which the WB health department acknowledged and said they are taking immediate steps to resolve. Obviously a problem existed and, if not for the public highlighting by the doctor, might not have got the attention it deserved. Then why the apology? Why must a citizen apologize for exercising his fundamental right to freedom of speech, especially when he is just stating facts? Was this apology even made by Dr. Khan or some govt. lackey sent it from his account after his phone had been seized?
The Govt of WB is working hard to ensure safety of frontline healthcare workers & it is very important that all of us cooperate with the govt in greater interest of public health. I apologise in case my previous post has unintentionally created misconceptions among followers.
— Dr.Indranil Khan ডাঃ ইন্দ্রনীল খাঁন (@IndranilKhan) March 30, 2020
2 hours after making the above tweet, Dr. Khan was released from his illegal detention. This gross abuse of state power by a petty-minded, vindictive state Government has gone largely unreported in national press.
Incredibly, WB police lodged an FIR against Dr. Khan under IPC Section 153A – “Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot.”
Tweeting about lack of good-quality PPE is incitement to riot? Let that sink in for a minute. And then remember how liberal ‘journalists’ like Barkha Dutt were adding fuel to fire during the tragic migrant exodus from Delhi and demanding for Army to be pressed into service as the UP state government had ‘abandoned millions of poor.’ How would Lutyens’ had reacted if the Yogi Government had arrested Barkha Dutt for ‘incitement to riot’?
Thankfully, Calcutta HC has stepped in to curb the Government witch-hunt against Dr. Khan and provided him interim relief. In a series of recent tweets, Dr. Khan stated that his mobile has been returned to him “as per High Court order” and shared an excerpt of the court order –
My phone and sim are to be returned to me, as per Hon'ble High Court order. Thanks to all of you for your whole-hearted support and cooperation. Anyone willing to reach out to me till then may call me on 7044010649.
— Dr.Indranil Khan ডাঃ ইন্দ্রনীল খাঁন (@IndranilKhan) April 1, 2020
The court order says – “Freedom of speech and expression which is granted under Article 19 of the Constitution of India has to be scrupulously upheld by the State. If an expression of opinion brings the government into disrepute, it cannot defend this allegation by intimidation of the person expressing the opinion by subjecting him to prolonged interrogation, threatening arrest seizing his mobile phone and SIM card and so on….It can do so if a citizen tries to utilize this freedom by trying to circulate alleged facts maliciously with a view to causing damage to another person or to the public at large or the nation. This could be done by unnecessary spread of fear and panic among the public for the above reason.”
Court opined that prima facie, the ingredients of the offence charged seemed to be lacking in this case. The judge also noted that the oncologist’s post was acknowledged and appreciated by a government authority on social media.
And this is not the only example of viciousness displayed by the Mamata Banerjee government during this pandemic. Non-TMC MLAs are being prevented from distributing aid to poor who are suffering during the lockdown, while all aid – even from central sources – is being stamped with the CM’s photo before being handed out to the needy.
If there is a fascist Government in Bharat today, it is the West Bengal government led by Mamata Banerjee and the Kerala govt led by Pinarayi Vijayan. But they both will continue to get a free pass from intelligentsia as they wear the mask of ‘secularism’.
Meanwhile, West Bengal has seen 6 deaths out of a total 53 coronavirus cases in the state.
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