AMRI gets return ticket

Calcutta, Oct. 14: Fire-ravaged AMRI Dhakuria has been granted permission to reopen its diabetic clinic and pathology laboratory under a reconstituted board that gives the hospital a new face and the Mamata Banerjee government reason to consider clearing the decks for the remaining facilities.

The promoters of the hospital, where 91 people choked to death during a blaze in the basement of Annexe I on December 9 last year, had written to the chief minister's office around a fortnight back, seeking permission to reopen three facilities.

The list includes the main unit, whose licence the government had revoked on December 27 along with the units that were functioning for more than a fortnight after the fire.

"The group applied for permission to reopen the main unit along with Annexe II and a diabetic clinic opposite the main building. For a start, the government has agreed to allow the diabetic clinic and pathology laboratory to reopen," a senior official at Writers' said today.

Annexe I, where most of the 91 victims of the December 9 fire were patients unable to escape the noxious fumes that had entered through the air-conditioning vents, is not structurally connected to either the main unit or Annexe II, though they are in the same compound. Annexe I will not be reopened anytime soon, sources said.

A spokesperson for AMRI declined to comment but sources said the government's written consent had already reached the new-look management, which includes only two names from the old board. Ravi Todi and Manish Goenka, sons of co-promoters S.K. Todi and R.S. Goenka, have retained their places on the board with five new faces.

The government, whose share in the hospital has over the years shrunk to 1.9 per cent, has yet to nominate a representative.

S.K. Todi's Shrachi Group has a little over 32 per cent share in AMRI, while the R.S. Goenka and R.S. Agarwal families, which jointly own the Emami Group, have a 66 per cent stake. But the names of the two companies no longer feature on the billboards outside AMRI Dhakuria.

Sources said the promoters of AMRI decided to approach the government for permission to reopen the hospital following "positive signals".

The letter to the chief minister's office stated that AMRI had been making a loss of around Rs 4.5 crore a month on account of the salaries of 700-odd employees, depreciation of assets and interest on loans.

The first indication of AMRI's plans came earlier this year when the 14 erstwhile directors, eight of whom had spent several months in jail, resigned from the board. The stakeholders then wrote to the state health department for renewal of the hospital's medical licence.

The new board includes .P. Saxena, a chartered accountant, .P. Jhunjhunwala, representative of a firm of solicitors, businessman Sanjiv Agarwal and two senior AMRI officials, Rajesh Parekh and Anil Malawat. Sources said the board had already held a couple of meetings.

"That the directors held responsible for the tragedy are no longer on the AMRI board makes it easier for the government to allow the hospital to reopen," a bureaucrat said.

The two buildings that the AMRI management wants to reopen ' the main building and Annexe II ' have undergone extensive renovation.

"Doors made of fire-proof material have been used and the electrical wiring replaced. The capacities of the water reservoirs on the roof have been increased and a couple of tanks have been added," a company official said.

The capacity of the main building has been reduced from 180 to 150 beds to create more space. "The fire department has inspected the premises but the clearance letter hasn't come yet. CESC has been approached to restore power supply," the official said.