While Rich Indians Flee Abroad, Kolkata’s Affluent Raise Funds For Beds and Oxygen

The farce that is the Indian medical infrastructure has been laid bare for all to see with the crippling coronavirus second wave. Patients are dying due to lack of oxygen or critical care as hospitals are overflowing – the prime reason being shortage of beds and oxygen supply.

This has also led the country’s rich to flee abroad. Contrarily, in West Bengal’s capital Kolkata, the city’s affluent entrepreneurs have stepped up in the hour of need to help out using their resources and contacts at hand.

“This is about responsible citizenship. It’s about saving as many lives as we can at this moment,” says Meghdut Roychowdhury of the Techno India Group. He is a part of the Entrepreneurs of Kolkata group, which has been raising funds to improve the existing medical infrastructure of the city.

The group has already raised around Rs 5 crore within a fortnight. The plan is to raise a million dollars and use that to provide beds, ICUs, oxygen supply and manpower to hospitals across the state. Though it’s an unofficial group, it has nearly 80 entrepreneurs joining hands for the project ‘Breathe Again’.

“As entrepreneurs, it’s our job to understand the problem, which is acute shortage of beds in Kolkata. We were talking about this in a WhatsApp group but we wanted to do something more than just discuss the situation. So, we formed this group [Entrepreneurs of Kolkata] where our main focus is maximisation of critical care beds which in turn maximises saving lives,” says Sagar Daryani, CEO of Wow Momo and the prime architect of this initiative.

Since May, the group has set up 267 ICU beds across city hospitals, out of which 43 are already functional. Additionally, they have imported 35 BiPAP ventilators from Singapore, while 55 more can be expected. They reach out to hospitals which can function speedily in setting up all this. The intermediary is the hospital’s vendor.

Also read: Second Wave: The Youth of India Is Stepping up

Their aid has reached places beyond Kolkata as well to the districts of Midnapore, Purulia, Siliguri and Burdwan. The funds raised has also enabled the hiring of more than 300 medical workers across the state.

“The next initiative is to convert normal beds into ICU beds and get more life-saving equipment. Though currently our focus is limited to life-saving, we are taking all decisions keeping the third wave in mind. Additionally, we are trying to get oxygen cylinders but it’s difficult,” confesses Daryani.

The oxygen shortage is an issue that Roychowdhury is also trying to combat. He has plans to setup an oxygen generating plant at Techno India’s DAMA Hospital, though that hasn’t materialised as of now.

“We are talking to several foreign companies who can help get us the equipment we need. For the oxygen plant, we are trying to reach the French company Air Liquide,” he informs.

Considering the state of affairs in the country and the state, the group’s efforts are much needed and extremely laudable. West Bengal’s active number of cases stands at 1.3 lakh now, with reports suggesting that the prolonged electoral campaigns have contributed to a 40-fold increase in number of cases.

India’s worsening crisis has a few celebrities and cricketers also coming forward to help out. Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan recently revealed his extensive relief work in paying off loans and ferrying migrant workers to their homes through his blog after celebrities faced criticism for not donating despite their substantial wealth.

In fact, Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma faced backlash for starting a fundraising campaign as people expected a higher donation from the loaded duo. Australian cricketer Pat Cummins, who was appalled by the extravaganza of the Indian Premier League while the rest of the country gasped for oxygen, donated $50,000 for purchasing oxygen supply for India’s hospitals. Renowned journalist Rana Ayyub has also been doing relief work.

Like them, lots of people have come forward to help out in the hour of need. With a government that is more concerned about building palaces and exacting revenge on states where it lost, this was the only way out – ordinary citizens coming together to mitigate the crisis.

If you wish, you can also donate to the cause here.

Shaswata Kundu Chaudhuri is a features journalist based in Kolkata with an unhealthy interest in music.

All images have been provided by the entrepreneur’s group.