It can only be the result of crass ignorance of the state government that more than 250 children have already fallen victim to a raging bout of encephalitis in Bihar. Nitish Kumar, far from positively addressing the issue on a war footing, is busy politicking. He is well aware that encephalitis has become a recurrent phenomenon in Bihar just like the annual floods. Perhaps the simile between floods and encephalitis is wide off the mark as floods do vary in their wrath but encephalitis has been unrelenting and most ruthless in claiming its victims, especially among innocent children.
Every year, just like the annual outbreak of the disease, the government makes promises but both, the promises and the disease, wane as the rains arrive. This year the disease has already claimed more than 250 young ones while around 600 are languishing in hospitals. The state support to tackle the menace is so ramshackle that there is not even adequate infrastructure to deal with the situation and an acute shortage of junior doctors has added to the problem. The junior doctors in a number of medical colleges have gone on strike but the state government has made no alternate arrangements. Otherwise also, only the junior staff of hospitals and medical colleges was engaged in taking care of encephalitis patients while the senior doctors and directors appear only during inspections. The problem has assumed such gargantuan proportions that nearly half of Bihar is engulfed by the disease.
Muzaffarpur and Gaya are within a hundred kilometers from the state capital, Patna, but both these districts are facing a mounting death toll of children due to encephalitis. Yet the Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, is too busy with political calculations than counting the number of deaths. Nitish has of late been more engaged in presidential elections or furthering his prospects for becoming the next prime minister than with the state of his beleaguered people. Most of the deaths have taken place in ‘mahadalit’ or extremely backward families, a section that seems to have been used by Nitish to just serve as a vote bank; all his claims of upliftment of the lower and poorest sections of the society have fallen flat on their face.
The most affected areas include Gaya, Muzaffarpur, Araria, Darbhanga, Gopalganj, Jehanabad, Nawada, Nalanda, East and West Champaran, Samastipur, Siwan, Saran and Vaishali.
The reality of fighting encephalitis came to light when Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo, visited Anugraha Narayan Magadh Medical College. There was not even a single official to explain to him the state of
affairs. A female health personnel apprised him of the situation. Lalu also found that the children’s ward’s intensive care unit (ICU) was closed. He could do no more than chafe at the dereliction.
The health department is fully aware of the recurring curse of the disease but it has hardly taken any preventive or corrective measures. The government on the other hand, is so insensitive that the Chief Minister has not even said a word to assuage the personal loss of the bereaved families. But the insensate government has announced Rs 50,000 as cash compensation for every encephalitis death.
Nitish has always been passing the buck onto the Centre, but it seems this time he would not be able to do it. Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh, has already announced a package of 125 crore for the encephalitis-affected areas. What remains to be seen is how efficiently the state uses this money.
Nitish is busy cornering brownie points with his ‘sewa yatras’ (welfare tours) but he has failed to spare some time for visiting the bereaved families. This is evidence of how insensitive the government and establishment has
become. This callousness has invited a lot of flak from the Opposition in the state. Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has said that the Chief Minister has lost all moral title to his elevated position and, in the same vein, RJD has asked to resign if he has any moral qualms left with him.
Interestingly, the Health Minister of Bihar is busy garnering votes in Jharkhand elections. Perhaps, the Chief Minister has already made up his mind not to visit the affected areas as he is
convinced that after so much of mayhem, year after year, he stands no chance with the people of these areas.