It all began with the wedding of a young photo journalist Satya Padhi on March 11, 2018, in an Odisha village. “We returned to Bhubaneswar from Bengaluru that day around 3 pm and were really tired, but I insisted that we have to attend the reception as Subroto (Bagchi) had given his word to the groom Satya. He hailed from Kuanrpur, a village which is two and half hours’ drive from Bhubaneswar,” recalls Susmita Bagchi, chairperson of Mo School Abhiyan Parichalana Sangathan. Subroto Bagchi, one of the founders of Mindtree, now works for the Odisha government for skilling its youth.
Kuanrpur is a village in Jajpur district, “where our ancestral village Taliha is located. When we drove about 25 minutes from Satya’s village, we crossed a very small sleepy town named Rambag. That rang a bell and I casually told Subroto that our village is somewhere nearby. We don’t have immediate family there, but my father’s cousins still live there,” says Susmita.
Once upon a time her grandfather was the zamindar and most of the land in the village belonged to him. But after the zamindari system was abolished, “he started selling off land parcels. My father and his siblings moved to Bhubaneswar and except for my uncle who kept a small piece of land, mostly for emotional reasons, my father and his sisters sold their portions.”
On their return after attending the marriage, they stopped at Rambag to take a look at her village Taliha, “which I had last visited when my grandfather died in 1972”. After much inquiry, they finally detected the family’s ancestral land which belonged to Susmita’s uncle Durga Charan Panda. Nearby was a house belonging to her distant relative Golak Panda. His wife told them that he had gone to the town to consult a doctor as he had a bad asthma attack. “After spending 10–15 minutes there, we left. On our way back, Subroto said that the village should have a hospital. Since we work in the area of preventing blindness, I suggested an eye hospital,” she said.
When she offered to buy the land from Durga Charan Panda for the hospital, he chided her and said he would not sell but gift the land for the project.
This is where Rotary comes into the picture. An organisation was required to run the hospital Susmita wanted to build, and the JPM Rotary Eye Institute, Cuttack, was already looking for a satellite eye hospital as four districts in the region had no eye care facility.
Things fell into place and in August 2018, an MoU was signed with the eye hospital and with Susmita and Subroto Bagchi donating ₹3 crore for the project, after two Covid waves and lockdowns, the JPM Rotary Adikanda Panda Memorial Eye Hospital was inaugurated in June 2021. The MoU is to do 7,000 surgeries eventually and see 25,000 patients a year.
The JPM Rotary Club of Cuttack Eye Hospital and Research Institute has an interesting history. It was built in 1992 by RC Cuttack, RID 3262, which for long years had been conducting eye camps in the region, especially for villagers in undivided Cuttack district. Every year about 20 eye camps were organised by the club. As there was a pressing need to set up an eye hospital to fight preventable blindness, this eye hospital was born.
Past president of RC Cuttack and president of the JPM Rotary Eye Institute Sushant Mohanty says the hospital was built in collaboration with Sight Savers International (SSI), formerly known as the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind, UK. “They provided the technical know-how and helped in training the personnel, and in those days, to build the hospital, Rotarians contributed ₹30 lakh. It began with 40 beds and an OP section, mainly for cataract patients.” Today it has 130 beds and does intricate eye surgeries for various eye diseases. Within a span of 24 years, the hospital has expanded to accommodate 130 beds and complicated eye surgeries are being performed here. “Today it is one of the leading hospitals in Eastern India providing eye care in super specialties, including retina, cornea, glaucoma and other eye disorders. Initially set up for undertaking cataract surgeries mainly, the institution has now grown to be a Referral Tertiary Centre of excellence,” says Mohanty. Situated at Cuttack, the hospital caters to the needs of the patients in the peripheries of Cuttack and the neighbouring states and “we have several corporate sectors as our clients. It is a pioneer and a leader in Odisha for vitreo-retinal paediatric surgery.”
This hospital treats over 65,000 patients annually in its OPD. Also, through “an active outreach/ in-reach programme, patients are examined in camps conducted in rural areas, and brought here for free operations. Throughout the week, medical teams from the hospital go out to camps in rural areas on an average radius of about 150 km. Hundreds of patients are examined and screened at each camp and those needing surgery are transported here and back and food is also provided to them.”
In 2020, 292 free cataract screening camps were conducted and 7,182 free cataract operations were done.
The satellite hospital will cater to the needs of the rural community of Bhadrak, Kendrapada and Jajpur districts, Mohanty added.