Irrational attacks on public properties

The incidents of common people attacking and damaging public properties like government run hospitals and police stations on slightest pretext and provocations are on the rise in Odisha. Some call it an ‘all India phenomenon.’ However, what disturbs many is the frequency with which these incidents are taking place in the state.

The latest victim of this brazen and unnecessary public ire was Capital Hospital, the biggest government run health facility in the state capital Bhubaneswar. The hospital was attacked by common citizens twice within a span of less than a fortnight over two mishaps — the death of two minor girls in two separate rape incidents. The vital health centre had to bear the public wrath though it had no role to play in both the cases. In the first instance, the alleged gang rape victim, a minor girl from coastal Kendrapara district was being shifted from government run Sriram Chandra Bhanja (SCB) medical college and hospital in Cuttack to a New Delhi health facility when she developed complications at the Bhubaneswar airport and the doctors accompanying her decided to rush her to Capital Hospital as it is located nearby.

When the girl was declared dead a couple of hours after she was admitted into the hospital, the people who had already started gathering there after the development was flashed on the local television channels went on a rampage damaging properties including two ambulances parked inside the hospital premises while shouting slogans against chief minister Naveen Patnaik and health minister Damodar Rout.

Unwanted expenditure

They did not realise that neither Patnaik nor Rout would pay from their pockets to repair the damages in the hospital. Being a public health facility the damages will be repaired by the health department with the fund released from the public exchequer. It will be tax payers’ hard earned money that will be used for this type of unwanted expenditure. In the second incident, the minor girl from a Bhubaneswar slum was raped and murdered by her perpetrator. The police had taken the dead body to the hospital only for post mortem. Many locals who had accompanied the dead body began to damage the hospital properties charging that the police was trying to hush up the case.

Ironically, the two ambulances the people damaged in the first attack were being used primarily to shift poor, serious patients from Capital Hospital to other better health facilities, particularly to the SCB medical college and hospital in Cuttack. In fact, the Capital mostly caters to the patients belonging to poor and lower middle class families not only from within the Bhubaneswar city but also from many nearby areas in the two coastal districts of Khurda and Puri. Those who are financially well off - patients belonging to upper middle class and rich families to be precise - seldom use the facilities in Capital Hospital. They instead prefer to get their treatment done in private hospitals in the city.

Moreover, during both the above attacks the people involved did not realise that their action would unnecessarily disturb and hurt other patients admitted in the hospital and also their family members accompanying them. Many feel that these type of incidents can be brought under control only if the police are active and identify the perpetrators and take exemplary action against them. Identifying the culprits will not be a difficult job as their pictures can be taken out from footage of the CCTV cameras fixed in the hospitals.But police rarely take a pro-active role. “If we will take action, there will be protests on the streets and a panicky government, instead of standing by us, will place under suspension a few of our officials to appease the public. 

In these circumstances who will take the risk”, reasoned a senior police official. The citiizens’ groups are also of the view that things can be improved if the government of the day — in this case the Naveen Patnaik administration — takes the matter to the court of law and collects damages from the opposition political leaders who often provoke the common people to indulge in violence and attack the public properties.

Significantly, in the above two incidents at the Capital Hospital, several senior leaders of the opposition political parties like the Congress and the BJP were seen giving provocative statements right inside the premises of the health facility. But the BJD government in unlikely to take such any drastic action against them. The same would have been the reaction if the opposition Congress were to be in power.

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