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22 Jun 2017

Unrest cloud on ambulances - Emergency vehicles to go off roads in hills

Ambulances parked at Darjeeling district hospital on Wednesday. Picture by Passang Yolmo
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, June 21: Ambulance operators in the hills have refused to ply their vehicles from tomorrow, alleging harassment by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters trying to enforce the strike.
The decision could have widespread ramification as a majority of critical patients in Darjeeling are referred to hospitals in Siliguri, a three-hour drive.
Told about the move, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said essential services were exempted from the purview of the strike and appealed to the ambulance drivers to continue plying their vehicles.
"What to do? We, too, support the Gorkhaland cause but the strike enforcers often harass us when we take patients to Siliguri. We are not plying our vehicles for profit but for those who need emergency treatment," said Yogen Rai, the driver of an ambulance associated with Darjeeling district hospital.
The ambulance operators complained that the picketers not only checked their vehicles at numerous points but also harassed them on the suspicion that the people accompanying the patients were tourists or residents whom the drivers had allowed in for some money.
"The protesters must understand there are three to four people always accompanying a patient. Why should we take people who are not related to the patient?" said Binod Chhetri, another driver.
The drivers alleged that there were several instances of the protesters threatening to burn down the ambulances.
"They threaten to set the ambulances on fire. They ask us if we are carrying ration or vegetables on our way up the hills. We are also human beings and we too get scared," said Chhetri. "If the picketers think we should be carrying party flags and taking part in processions instead of driving ambulances, we will do so from tomorrow."
Some of the drivers said there were instances when fruits bought by a patient's relatives had been snatched and thrown away.
Sources said there were 13 ambulances that operate out of Darjeeling town, of which 10 are attached to Darjeeling district hospital. The ambulances charge Rs 2,000 for a drop to Siliguri and Rs 2,500 for a two-way ride back to Darjeeling.
"When there are no references from the Darjeeling district hospital, we take other patients to Siliguri, but only after they show us proper documents. The bandh enforces, however, do not understand that," said B.R. Tamang, another driver.
Rai said: "Sometimes, the protesters tell us that we are running the ambulances too frequently. On usual days, patients to Siliguri might not necessarily book an ambulance. But on days of strike, they have no option but to use our ambulances. We need to unnecessarily justify our trip every time."
Told about the decision by the ambulance operators, Giri said: "We have exempted ambulances from the strike's purview. We will appeal to them to ply their vehicles. I will also pass on a word to ensure that ambulance drivers are not harassed."
(Source & Courtesy : https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170622/jsp/bengal/story_158097.jsp)

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