When the present Union Minister of State for Health Ashwini Choubey was the health minister in the Nitish Kumar cabinet in January 2012, he had threatened the striking doctors of Bihar that their hands would be chopped off if they create obstructions in the functioning of government hospitals in the state.
Though his statement landed chief minister in a difficult situation, doctors across the country did not go on the nationwide strike.
Seven and a half years later, Choubey as well as his own party’s health minister in Bihar Mangal Pandey did not get time to visit the victims of acute encephalitis and heat wave till things really went out of control. Similar is the case of the state chief minister.
A couple of hundred lives have till now been lost due to acute encephalitis and heat wave in about a dozen districts of the state.
While Choubey and his men were still busy celebrating the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Pandey got no time to visit hospitals in the worst-hit Muzaffarpur district till more than 50 children had lost their lives.
A couple of days later, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on June 16 visited the town. By that time the death toll had almost doubled. Most of them died in the government-run Shri Krishna Medical College and Hospital of Muzaffarpur.
Choubey on June 16 accompanied Harsh Vardhan to visit this hospital, where the situation is chaotic.
Notwithstanding the tall claims by Nitish Kumar, Ashwini Choubey and Mangal Pandey that the condition of government hospitals have improved in Bihar in the last few years, the truth is that there is total chaos in this premier hospital of north Bihar with two patients being forced to share a single bed. In several cases one of them died while the other can be seen fighting for his/her life.
That Mangal Pandey visited the town only on June 14 when it is only 75 km from the state capital Patna only speaks of the seriousness of the government.
Though acute encephalitis is an annual phenomenon in several parts of Bihar, especially Muzaffarpur the state government has repeatedly been caught off guard. Not to speak of beds, medicine and other requirements in this hospital there is no arrangement for water in the SKMCH even though the temperature is soaring around 44-45 degrees.
Similarly when 66 people died of the heat wave in one day, June 15, in four districts of the state the government was caught totally unprepared. The death toll had now crossed over 100 yet there is no sign of improvement.
According to the media reports 30 people died in Aurangabad, 25 and eight people lost their lives in Gaya and Nawada and three in Patna on June 15 alone. That was the time when chief minister Nitish Kumar was attending the NITI Aayog meeting in Delhi.
As if that was not enough the Indian Medical Association was more busy in giving a call for the nation-wide strike of doctors on June 17 in protest against the attack on junior doctors in West Bengal.
Choubey, a junior health minister in the Union cabinet, would for obvious reason not call for the chopping off the hands of the striking doctors. This is simply because the doctors’ strike politically suits his party, the BJP.
Morally too, he can not do so as he, his own health minister and his own alliance government have seriously let down the people of the state so far the health sector is concerned. How can he blame the doctors now when the attendants of the patients on June 16 approached the Union health minister complaining that there is no water to drink in the entire hospital premises.
This is the situation in a premier government run medical college hospital of the state when the chief minister has under his Saat Nischey (Seven Resolves).
Programme promised to bring tap water to every household in the state––be it in towns or villages.
No doubt several huge buildings have come up in the name of government hospitals in the last few years, they are facing acute shortage of doctors , para-medical staff and medicine as well as beds. Many hospitals have 50 per cent vacant posts of doctors.
It is true that the situation had improved slightly in the primary health centres at the block level after Nitish Kumar government came to power in 2005. But that was largely due to the centrally-sponsored National Rural Health Mission scheme. Thanks to the pro-government media all the credit for this slight improvement in health sector was given to the Nitish government when all the medicines were supplied by the Centre which also ensured the payment of salary to doctors and other staff.
Throughout these years the media continued to look the other way when the situation in health sector continued to deteriorate. Even the reports of acute encephalitis became national news when the death toll crossed 50.