The morning sun of December 9, 2011 brought with it gloom for Kolkata. Massive fire at a posh private hospital in the heart of city’s southern fringes claimed at least 65 lives so far. AMRI hospital had been featured in The Week’s 27 November issue as Kolkata’s best Emergency and Superspeciality hospital. Sadly, the same hospital remained a silent witness to the charred remains of more than 60 odd people who had come with a hope of curing themselves of their diseases. A fire breaking out in such a facility, leaves us wondering – who are we banking on, angels or demons, to save our kit & kins from their sufferings?


The new Annexe building of the Dhakuria branch of AMRI hospital caught fire at 3am reportedly. Relatives of patients and some local residents reported the authorities about smoke emanating from the premises. However the parties were assured there was no such accident. After about an hour when the prominence of a fire accident could not be further denied, fire fighting services were alerted by the local residents.


Fire fighters (including Minister in charge of Disaster Management, Govt of West Bengal) complained of non cooperation from hospital administration. They were withheld from entering the basement of the hospital, where the fire originated. Rescue operations caught pace with day break. Ministers, police as well as disaster management team engaged themselves in rescue as time passed. Currently the Chief Minister of Bengal and the Leader of Opposition, West Bengal Assembly, are at the hospital assessing the situation. Officials from the hospital have been conspicuous by their absence.


Dead bodies that have been rescued have been sent to SSKM hospital morgue for post mortem. Four kiosks have been ordered to be set up there for quick handing over of the remains to the concerned families. The injured are being sent to other city branches of AMRI chain as well as some government hospitals. Death toll could rise further as rescue progresses.


Social Media too has been abuzz with the news of the tragedy. Helpline numbers were being shared by users on Twitter. #AMRI and #Dhakuria have been trending in India at second and third slot respectively. From politicians like Derek O’ Brain to citizens of Kolkata like Sumana, Gunjan, Sanjog, Shilpa, Anushree,  Aurindam,  Sanjib, Agnivo have been tweeting endlessly to report the latest on the mishap. One look at the #AMRI column on Twitter will tell you these people are talking sense.

What baffles us, is, how hospital authorities missed out on these important points to adhere to, which even common men think is/was absolutely necessary?

Not just that, in times like these, though we realize social media can bring people together, help in information dissemination, and help form a public opinion, but what more than that? Is there anyway we can make it count? Or the only thing that counts is the number of charred bodies, or the no. of heartbroken, devastated family members who are haplessly doing rounds, looking for help in the hospital premises?


This is the second time in 3 years that Dhakuria branch AMRI hospital chain witnessed devastating fire accident. The incident exposes the lack of infrastructure for patient safety and disaster management even in private hospitals. Health care in India clearly deserves more attention than that is being devoted at this time. Hospital is where people go, with a lot of hope, to save their near and dear ones. Seeing those people in flames, is a horrific experience, and shock of a lifetime. It’s time we sit up and do what is necessary to prevent such disasters. May the souls rest in peace, and the culprits be brought to justice.


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