Doctor Saibal Jana of Shaheed Hospital, Dalli, Chhattisgarh, has been arrested for allegedly “absconding” in a case that was registered in 1992. His wife, Alpana Jana, told The Hindu that the allegation is “ridiculous” as they “hardly went out of Dalli” in the last two decades.

Soon after completing his education in a Kolkata medical college, Dr. Jana headed for Dalli Rajhara to work among mine workers. He set up what is perhaps the most respected “pauper’s hospital”, as it is described by the locals in the early 1980s and has worked there for three decades. His work came to a halt on Wednesday when he was arrested. He was admitted in a Bhilai hospital on Thursday.

His friends in Chhattisgarh and Kolkata are “shocked” that a doctor like Jana, who is attached to many committees of the State government, could be arrested in a case which was registered more than two decades ago. The case in which Dr. Jana was arrested related to the police firing on agitating mine workers in Bhilai in July 1992, in which 18 workers were killed.

“He refuses to move out of the hospital and checks patients for nearly 24 hours. He is part of many in health related committees of the State government and now we get to hear that he was absconding,” Ms Jana said over the phone from Durg.

Former MLA and eminent local activist Janaklal Thakur said 58 persons were charged in the 1992 case and many of them took bail. “Dr. Jana was unaware that his name featured in the list of accused. He never received any intimation from the court or police. Finally, when he went to court to inquire about the case, he was taken into custody.” 1n 1992, on the day of the violence, Dr. Jana and his wife were treating the agitating workers as many of them fell sick in the field near the Powerhouse Station in Bhilai. “Cases were filed for treating patients, I presume,” Ms Jana said.

Dr. Binayak Sen, who worked with Dr. Jana to raise the “pauper’s hospital,” — the Shaheed [Martyr] Hospital — in Dalli in 1983-84 said that the arrest had “shocked” him. Speaking of his “dear friend,” Dr. Sen said Dr. Jana was among the “most versatile” of doctors he had come across in his career as a professional. “He was an obstetrician, an orthopaedic who could treat complex fractures, conduct general surgery and practise a whole range of medicine including paediatrics,” said Dr. Sen, who was himself arrested for his alleged association with the outlawed Maoists in 2007 by the Chhattisgarh police.

Dr. Sen said three young doctors landed in Chhattisgarh in the early 1980s to set up a public health facility. “It was Chhattisgarh Mine Srameek Sangh, led by trade unionist Shankar Guha Niyogi, that extended support to set up a hospital for the workers. Two persons came from Kolkata and I joined them in Chhattisgarh to set up a volunteer training programme and a health facility,” But the young doctors found nothing in Dalli in 1983 to start a health project. “It was Saibal, who was working with a Catholic health facility, who came forward and started leading the team and the project,” Dr Sen said.

“Shaheed Hospital, which was almost entirely funded by the workers, the actual stone crushers in the mines, emerged as the biggest support for the poor in Chhattisgarh and parts of central India. The hospital still treats patients nearly free of cost and nobody is refused treatment for not having even token money.”