Here’s The Stark And Embarrassing Truth About Bengal That The Balasore Rail Disaster Has Thrown Up

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 06, 2023, 03:32 PM | Updated 03:32 PM IST

The Balasore rail tragedy site at Odisha.
The Balasore rail tragedy site at Odisha.
  • It is not only Bengal’s best and brightest who leave Bengal. Even unskilled or semi-skilled labourers migrate in tens of thousands every month in search of jobs in South, West and North India. 
  • The rail disaster in Balasore has, once again, laid bare this stark fact. 
  • An ugly and inconvenient truth about Bengal emerged from the wreckages of coaches involved in the rail disaster in Odisha’s Balasore. 

    A large chunk of the casualties — both dead and injured — in the train crash were from Bengal. And they can be segregated into two broad categories: those travelling to the southern states for medical treatment and those going to that part of the country in search of jobs. 

    In fact, both the trains involved in the disaster — the Coromandel Express and the Yeshwantpur-Howrah Superfast Express — are variously known as ‘Bengal Patients’ Express’ and ‘Bengal Mazdoor Express’. 

    That is a very poor reflection on not only the state of healthcare and the economy of Bengal, but exposes the hollowness of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s claims that public medical facilities in Bengal now compare with the best in the country and also that lakhs of jobs have been created in Bengal. 

    Bengal’s Ailing Healthcare Sector

    Most reputable private hospitals in Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad get a large chunk of their patients from Bengal. Some of them report that very often, patients from Bengal account for over 50 per cent of those visiting their out-patient departments (OPDs). 

    The reason why tens of thousands of the ailing from Bengal make a beeline for hospitals in South India — many of the sick from Bengal also go to Delhi and Mumbai — is because the healthcare sector in Bengal is itself ailing. 

    Even patients enrolled in the Bengal government’s high-flawed Swasthya Sathi public health insurance programme prefer to travel to Delhi, Mumbai or the southern states for specialised treatment. 

    And they do so at their own cost, often exhausting their life’s savings, since hospitals outside Bengal are not empanelled under the government’s Swasthya Sathi scheme. 

    Since Bengal has rolled out its own health insurance scheme, it does not allow enrollment under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) that has both leading public and private hospitals across the country empanelled under it. 

    Many states that have their own public health insurance schemes for the poor also allow their citizens to enroll themselves under PM-JAY. But Mamata Banerjee’s obsession with playing the game of political one-upmanship and her obstinacy has prevented people, especially the poor, of Bengal from availing the benefits of the much superior PM-JAY. 

    As a result, trains like the Coromandel Express and the Yeshwantpur-Shalimar Express (to South India), Gitanjali Express and Jnaneshwari Express (to Mumbai) and trains to Delhi brim with patients and their families seeking medical treatment outside Bengal. 

    So low is the confidence among the masses in Bengal on healthcare institutions within the state that thousands go out of the state for even diagnostic tests. 

    Even private healthcare institutions in Bengal, with a few honourable exceptions, suffer from a public trust deficit. That’s because the best doctors and even paramedical staff that Bengal produces go out of the state in search of greener pastures. 

    “Bright young doctors do not want to work in Bengal even in corporate hospitals. They go to work outside the state, especially in the other metros and even in Noida, Gurugram, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Pune, Nagpur and various other places, at the first opportunity,” renowned cardiac surgeon Parthasarathi Dutta told Swarajya

    The reasons for that, said Dutta, are many. “Career opportunities are much brighter in other cities, The work environment in other cities is also much better than Kolkata. And the quality of life in those cities is far better than Kolkata,” he said. 

    A senior professor of gastroenterology at the state-run Calcutta Medical College told Swarajya that last year, a couple of his students went to Bangalore for work instead of staying back in Kolkata. 

    “Most of the talented young doctors in various disciplines prefer to migrate to other places. And that is why there is a severe dearth of good doctors in Bengal,” he said. 

    Apart from better prospects and superior working conditions and quality of life in other cities, what also drives migration of good doctors from Bengal is the politicisation of healthcare institutions — both public and private — that often have to bow to the often unreasonable demands and diktats of politicians and even lumpen cadres of the ruling party. 

    The price for this is paid by the poor and ailing masses of Bengal who prefer penury to what they feel is certain death or botched treatment in Bengal’s hospitals.   

    Poor State Of Bengal’s Economy:

    Like doctors, lakhs of job-seekers — ranging from highly qualified engineers, scientists and management graduates to semi-skilled and unskilled labourers — migrate to other states every year from Bengal. 

    That Bengal has been suffering this brain drain for many decades — since the Left’s pernicious policies pauperised the state — is a known fact that merits no repetition. 

    But what’s important is that this outward migration from Bengal has only increased since Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011. 

    Driving away the Tata Nano plant from Singur may have brought her to power in the state, but has ensured that big investors continue to give Bengal a wide berth. 

    As a result, no new major industries have come up in Bengal in recent times. Also, some of the existing medium scale units have even closed down. 

    Mamata Banerjee claims that lakhs of jobs have been created in the MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) sector. But nearly all the new job opportunities have opened up in the unorganised small and micro sectors where working conditions and wages are very poor. 

    Bengal boasts of a huge increase in the number of entrepreneurs in the micro enterprises sector. 

    But all these ‘enterprises’ are small food stalls and pavement kiosks selling poor quality merchandise. These ‘enterprises’ provide barely subsistence-level incomes.   

    Most young people in the banking, corporate and other sectors prefer to migrate to other states because of limited career progression prospects in Bengal. Add to that the poor quality of life in Kolkata and other urban areas of Bengal compared to most cities in other states. 

    It is not only Bengal’s best and brightest who leave Bengal. Even unskilled or semi-skilled labourers migrate in tens of thousands every month in search of jobs in South, West and North India. 

    The rail disaster in Balasore has, once again, laid bare this stark fact. 

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