Kochi | It was raining disasters in Kerala. Two shocking tragedies in a span of three days - a boat capsize in Tanur on May 7 that robbed 22 lives and the gruesome fatal stabbing of a young house surgeon by a crime-accused person brought to Kottarakkara Taluk Hospital by police - have raised serious questions about safety.
Reports after a series of tragic boat accidents where several lost their lives earlier and reports on the safety measures to be taken have been gathering dust, pointing to the insensitivity of the authorities. The first was on July 27, 2002, when a passenger boat sank near Kumarakom Jetty, leaving 29 people dead. A judicial inquiry headed by Justice Narayana Kurup submitted a report.
The justice Narayana Kurup commission appointed to investigate the accident had recommended a financial assistance of Rs 91.6 lakh for the kin of the deceased. However, as of 2012, 1 lakh rupees has been paid so far for each. Four people including the boat master faced trial for 15 years in the case following the accident. They were released by the court in 2019.
On February 20, 2007, a tourist boat carrying school students on an excursion to the bird sanctuary of Thattekkad sank and 18 people died, including 15 school children. Then too, there was a judicial inquiry by Justice MM Pareed Pillay where a number of legislations for inland navigation were recommended.
At the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady, a double-decker boat carrying tourists sank on September 30, 2009, leaving 45 tourists dead. This time too there was a judicial inquiry by former judge E Moideen Kunju, who too did not fail in making recommendations.
Coincidentally, around a month before the recent Tanur tragedy, UN disaster management expert Muralee Thumarukudy had prophesied that a boat disaster was in the air. And in Tanur, a fishing boat was crudely converted into a tourist one and had been operating, flouting all norms, in the area for long. Little children lost their lives. In one particular case, but for a few males, all the children and women in the family sank to death. Here too, the government has set up a commission by a High Court retired judge to probe the matter.
On May 10, a person who jumped out of a deaddiction centre and had been posing threat to people in the vicinity was brought by police to Kottarakkara Taluk Hospital in the wee hours. He had some wounds caused during a brawl and while they were being dressed, he grabbed a pair of scissors and attacked a few hospital staff, policemen, who immediately fled, and finally fatally stabbed a 25-year-old house surgeon, Vandana Das.
What comes as a surprise is that health workers have been under attack in several hospitals across the State. Over three years, there have been more than 200 cases of serious violent incidents of attacks on hospitals and doctors in the State. The matter was raised in the Assembly several times and the government never took it seriously. The Health Minister had to retract her initial statement in the House and admit that there have been such instances which now earn the tag of 'isolated cases'. There was a case not long back where a doctor was kicked and beaten up by relatives of a patient. Not surprisingly, she is learnt to have left the shores to work in places where hospitals come under safe zones.
A young doctor revealed that while as a house surgeon in a hospital in Ernakulam not long ago, a drug addict was brought by police to the Emergency ward late at night. Suddenly the patient turned violent. Police there decided to look the other side. It was a scary scene. Fortunately, the security staff there overpowered him. This is just one of the innumerable incidents that doctors have to reveal. They admit that with mounting cases of drug and liquor addiction, people are brought to the emergency ward late at night and with very doctors on duty and the danger these patients pose, there has to be separate wards to attend to such cases.
As admitted by Dr Sulphi Noohu in a Facebook post on March 13, the conditions being such, doctors are desperate to save their own lives. They and health workers are forced to slip into a defence mechanism and save their skin, an equally dangerous and alarming situation.
There has to be a protocol in place and proper security for health workers on the mission to save lives.
Kerala High Court did not mince words when it said the police had to pull up their socks. It also said that it was not enough to provide security to VIPs, for the time being forget threatening tales of people moving along public roads when VIPs pass that way. High security has to be given to life-savers and hospitals should be declared safe zones and ensured they remain so.
But worse than the tragedy has been the reactions of those in power, similar to the adage of adding insult to injury. Over a month before the Tanur tragedy, people had complained of the poor condition of the boat and how all safety norms were being flouted. One legislator shouted down the complainant while another Minister asked the person to submit the complaint to his personal assistant. That nothing, but the tragedy, happened after all this only points to the administration's insensitivity.
In the Kottarakkara case, the Health Minister said doctors had told her that the young house surgeon was frightened and 'lacked experience'. She is yet to explain what that 'experience' is, but doctors, now on an agitation that is to be taken to the national level, said she might have meant that doctors should also take training in martial arts.