While in service, Premananda Saha, a retired havildar of the Tripura police, would escort his injured colleagues to far-away hospitals in Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi and sometimes bring their bodies back to their families in remote districts. Now retired, he has taken it upon himself to transport critical patients to hospitals for free at night, when ambulances are hard to come by.
The 61-year old, who uses his old Maruti van to transport patients, said it all started with a phone call from a patient with breathing trouble during the Covid pandemic, before his retirement in May 2021.
“A friend called me and I went straight ahead. I had previous experience of helping people in health emergencies. But Covid was new to me. So I donned a PPE Kit, went there, came back to three days of self-imposed quarantine at my home and then got myself tested at a hospital,” Saha said.
“During my service, I would do this work during duty hours. But towards the fag end of my career, the pandemic hit and people often could not find vehicles at night. Initially drivers were scared too,” he added.
Saha said though he had always wanted to help people, it was after retirement that he “figured out it was time for me to give my full efforts to social service”.
Ambulances run by clubs and social organisations are active during the day but nights are the critical phases for serious patients, said Saha. Having started his free ambulance service in April 2020, Saha has transported over 20-25 patients, including two with Covid, to hospitals so far. He keeps his mobile phone on 24×7, spends no less than Rs 4,000-5,000 of his pension every month for the social work. According to Saha, he has spent more than Rs 1 lakh for his social service over the past two years.
Saha, who joined the police’s border wings battalion in 1985, during the peak of armed insurgency in the state, had won the coveted president’s medal, in 2014, and other prestigious accolades, including the director-general of police’s commendation disc in 2011 and the governor’s commendation card in 2014. He served in insurgency-hit areas like Anandabazar, Mohanbari, Mungiyakami, Panisagar in the 80s and 90s.
His social work has won appreciation from the police department even after his retirement.
Earlier this month, the state police tweeted, “A Police officer whether in service or retired is always in service of people. Tripura Police salute Shri Premananda Saha, retired Havildar for his Nobel [sic] Service”.
Asked about the tweet, Saha said with a smile, “We have senior police officials living in the vicinity. Some of them must have seen the free ambulance service board at my gate.”
His wife, Jhulan Roy Saha, a retired assistant sub-inspector, and daughter Priya Saha, a law graduate, and son are proud of Saha’s social work. “I was so worried when he would don his PPE kit and go to transport Covid patients during the pandemic. But looking back, I am so proud of him,” Priya said.
A former Crime Investigation Department officer, Jhulan has been under treatment for a brain tumour for the past few years.
Saha said he wanted to render yeoman’s service with his and his wife’s pensions as long as he was alive and healthy.
Saha was sacked in 1992 after he joined the “police movement” against the then Congress-Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti government. He was reinstated in 1993, when the CPM-led Left Front government came to power.
Dr Achintya Paul of the Indira Gandhi Memorial (IGM) Hospital’s medicine department said Saha’s work is a rare example that shows even common people can come forward to help people in need of urgent medical attention. “The state government has introduced a slew of ambulances recently and people are getting services. But Premananda Saha’s works are really praiseworthy. It’s astounding to see a senior citizen taking it on himself to push that extra mile for helping people in the dead of the night,” he said.