Patna: The Bihar Assembly witnessed uproar on Monday as the Opposition cornered the Nitish Kumar government over the encephalitis crisis in the state, which has claimed over 150 lives.
Speaking in the assembly, Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey said, “According to the data we have, till June 28, 720 children were admitted, 586 were cured and 154 died. The death rate has reduced to 21 per cent. According to data from 2011-19, death rate due to AES has reduced over the past few years.”
As the Opposition created ruckus and demanded answers from the government over the lack of preparedness, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said expressing grief over the deaths was not enough.
“It is an extremely serious issue. We have held several meetings and discussed the issue at length. But no expert was able to tell us the reason for AES; so we decided to form a panel of experts to find out the reason,” he said.
Kumar added, “We agreed to spread awareness and because of that, the number of cases have come down. After seeing the lack of beds in PICU, I ordered the health secretary to increase the number of beds and hence the jail ward was converted to PICU and number of beds increased from 14 to 66.”
Expressing concern over encephalitis deaths, the Supreme Court had also sought answers from Bihar government. The state, however, said that it has taken steps and things were "under control". The court asked the government to reply on the adequacy of medicines, nutrition and hygiene, following which the state said that "things were under control" and sought 10 days to file a written reply. However, the court granted it seven days to file a response.
The issue soon turned into a political slugfest, with the RJD and the Congress accusing the Nitish Kumar government of ignoring the epidemic.
The Congress had hit out at the Centre and the Bihar government, saying better preparedness could have saved lives. Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also posted a video on Twitter in which Pandey was heard at a meeting asking for the score of the India versus Pakistan World Cup cricket match. "Bihar's Health Minister Mangal Pandey seems more worried about cricket score than the death of children due to Encephalitis," Surjewala tweeted and tagged the video.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said the central and state governments should do everything possible to control the situation. "It is unfortunate that in 2019, in the 21st century, so many children have died. There are some shortcomings on the part of the government and administration because they know that in the summers encephalitis hits Bihar so the health department should have been ready," he said.
Former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi questioned Kumar’s silence on the issue, saying it was the state’s health department which was in the ICU.
The parents of children who fell victim to the disease also protested against Kumar during his visit to the hospital.