In the turbulent year of 1943 when the Japanese air force was bombing Kolkata, famine was wreaking havoc in different parts of Bengal, which was still undivided. Back then, it was ‘Kakababu’ Muzaffar Ahmad who took the lead and formed the Peoples Relief Committee to help people in those hard times.
Taking brave volunteers, medical professionals and common people, he had made a nondescript start by forming the Peoples Relief Committee (PRC), which is still a part of legends in the city.
Speaking to Newsclick, Dr Fuad Halim and Radharaman Da, two key members of the PRC’s present leadership, gave an account of how the PRC was continuing with the tradition of standing beside the poor people in times of need such as the current pandemic.
“We have seen in that in these Covid times, non-Covid health infrastructures are suffering. Hence, we are providing a non-Covid infrastructure with extremely low-cost ultrasound. In Kolkata’s Park Circus area at Dilkhusa street, diagnostic facilities such as electrocardiogram, X-ray, echocardiogram and pathology are provided to people at nominal costs with three days’ free medicines. Even Dialysis, CT scan and MRI are offered by the PRC’s sister health networks in the city at meagre prices,” said DR Fuad Halim.
Rita Mirdhya, Assistant Secretary of the PRC, told Newsclick that apart from its HO at Dilkhusa street in Kolkata, similar OPD facilities with diagnostic facilities exist in Howrah, Udainarayanpur, and Baghajatin in South Kolkata, Uttarpara in Hoogly, Halisahar in North 24 Parganas district, and Baharampur in Murshidabad district.
In the evening, there are specialist clinics held, and yearly, more than 12,000 patients are benefited from the activities of the PRC at the Park Circus centre alone.
Famous physicians are associated with the organisation and they see patients free of charge at the PRC centres. A group of 12 famous doctors has been instrumental in leading the medical services along with a dedicated team of PRC doctors, healthcare workers and technicians. The PRC has also been known to help during calamities throughout the country as a team of doctors goes to affected areas with medical instruments to stand beside the people at their hour of need.
Dr Halim, a notable physician and son of former Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim, is the present secretary of the organisation. On the other hand, 86-years-old Radharaman Da, who has been long dedicated to the PRC and peoples’ health movement in the state
still works for the organisation. Mirdhya said, apart from Dr Halim, Dr Pratyush Sur was the General Secretary of the Committee while Dr Satyajit Chakraborty and Radharaman Da are the joint secretaries at present.
The PRC‘s name has been associated with stalwarts like late CM Jyoti Basu, late communist leader and minister Binoy Choudhury, Former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, and present Left Front chairman Biman Basu. It was Benoy
Choudhury who planned to reshape the organisation in 1986 according to the needs of the modern age.
On September 28, 2018, the remodelled PRC was again made open to the public as a model of providing services to the poor patients who might need it as a transitory facility, facilitation centre, or diagnostic centre. It also aimed to fulfil the basic medical needs of needy patients in the capital city of Kolkata.
The multifaceted activities of PRC are already a part of the pre and post Independence history of the state of West Bengal and the country. Amidst the neo-liberalisation of the Indian economy, where medical facility and even education have been commercialised, 12 senior doctors of the PRC have taken the onus of lending support to the ailing state of public healthcare.
During the first bout of the Covid-19 pandemic, in association with Students Health Home organisation the PRC had also started the Janaswasthya online, a portal to strengthen the telemedicine infrastructure for Covid and non-Covid patients, which was a success. The PRC, during the second wave of Covid-19, has distributed relief kits through Red Volunteers in the state.
Image Credit: Rita Mirdhya
The PRC’s present operation based at Dilkhusa street in Kolkata is not limited to providing healthcare services but also arranging ambulances for critical patients. The Committee’s contribution during the time of police crackdown on the Nabanna movement was significant as they ferried the critically injured to the hospitals and treated others.
“The services of the PRC is not only limited to workers of the progressive movement but whoever is in need, according to their economic conditions, as it is reserved for people who are coming from the lowest economic strata of the society,” Radharaman Da said, adding that most of the patients come to the PRC’s centre after being worn out by commercialised private medical facilities.
In addition to its healthcare services, the PRC had also collected donations for Kerala ina times of Aila and Amphan cyclones, and teams of the PRC had even gone and given medical and other support to the people of Kerala in the past during floods. “It is our tradition to be with the people in their times of need; ideology is our guiding force,” said Da.
It was on September 29, 1943, that the people-driven organisation had started its operations from a scratch, which has now branched out to nooks and corners of Bengal, with support from medical professionals, doctors and the array of people whom the PRC has helped to tide over their health crisis.