Why is J&K Government blind to the need for eye banks?

Like Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Jammu and Kashmir has many people who are keen to donate corneas for people with vision impairment, but ironically, the state doesn’t have an eye bank

Photo courtesy: DIPR, J&K Govt
Photo courtesy: DIPR, JK Govt
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Ashutosh Sharma

“Are you angry with me?” asked Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti apologetically, caressing young teenager Insha Malik, 14, at Safdarjung Eye Centre at All India Institute of Medical Sciences Delhi, August last year. Insha had become the human face of devastation unleashed by government pellet guns during last year’s unrest in the Kashmir Valley. Amid Insha and her mother’s sobs, an emotional Mehbooba added reassuringly: “I’ll donate my one eye if that helps you to see the world again.”


Back home in Sedow village in Shopian district, about five-and-a half-months later, Insha and over 300 other people including children who have reportedly been rendered partially or completely blind by pellet guns, continue living hopelessly, with damaged eyes and shattered dreams.


Claiming to have adopted Insha, Shabir Shah—a separatist leader and chairman of the JK Democratic Freedom Party—pledged to become an eye-donor in November last year. He also appealed to potential eye-donors to register their names with the JKDFP’s office.


Just like Mehbooba and Shabir, Jammu and Kashmir has many people who are keen to donate corneas for people with vision impairment, but ironically, the state—which has an additional 66,448 visually challenged persons, according to census 2011— doesn’t have an eye bank and provision for organ donations and transplants. Even though Jammu and Kashmir enacted it own organ transplant act in 1997, it closed down its only eye bank at the Government Medical College and Hospital Jammu in 2008 for unknown reasons.

Though Jammu and Kashmir enacted it own organ transplant act in 1997, it closed down its only eye bank at the Government Medical College and Hospital Jammu in 2008 for unknown reasons.

Dr Nisar ul Hassan, president of Doctors Association Kashmir says: “Besides people born with visual impairment, the state has thousands of persons who have lost eyesight in pellet fire and conflict-related trauma. They are bound to live with dead eyes as there are no eye banks for retrieval and storage of eyes from brain dead donors and provisions for transplantation. We can’t restore their vision in this state”


“By not having an eye transplant facility—which is illegal on part of state government by virtue of an existing law, many people are deprived of right to sight,” he says, adding that “usually, such cases are referred outside the state and majority of people cannot afford it.” “Under section 13 of J&K Transplantation of Human Organs Act-1997, the state is obligatory to establish eye banks with all the facilities,” he says, and laments: “despite legal and religious support for organ donation, no serious efforts are being made to generate awareness among people.”


“Corneal transplantation is a simple outpatient procedure where damaged or diseased cornea is replaced by corneal tissue of a deceased,” he says, adding, “The prognosis for visual restoration with transplant is excellent and studies have revealed success rate of 95 to 99%.”

“Besides people born with visual impairment, the state has thousands of persons who have lost eyesight in pellet fire and conflict-related trauma. They are bound to live with dead eyes as there are no eye banks for retrieval and storage of eyes from brain dead donors and provisions for transplantation. We can’t restore their vision in this state”
Dr Nisar ul Hassan

In the absence of eye banks in our state, not only poor visually impaired people are suffering but the prospective donors have also been denied the opportunity to donate organs, says MS Qureshi, a social activist and lawyer, who has filed a Public Interest Litigation in the state High Court, seeking direction to the state government for establishment of eye banks.


Disposing of similar PILs, the State High Court in September 2012 had directed Commissioner Secretary Planning and Development Department to allot funds to Health and Medical Education Department for setting up eye banks.


“Even though an amount of ₹2.5 crore each was provided to health department for creation of an eye bank in Jammu as well as Srinagar, yet there is no headway. But the High Court began contempt proceedings against the health department over its lackadaisical attitude,” said Qureshi, adding, “the case is going on since 2015.”


While a Catholic Church in Kashmir Valley has sought government permission to start an eye bank, there are many other organisations like International Forum for Justice which have been crusading for creation of eye banks in the state.


Taking cognisance of a petition filed by chairman of the Forum, Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, the State Human Rights Commission sought a report from J&K’s Law Secretary over implementation of J&K Transplantation of Human Organ Act, 1997 and creation of eye banks, in November last year. The law department, according to sources, is yet to file a response.


“Over 200 persons from all walks of the society, who have been supporting me, want to donate their eyes. But where are the eye banks? ”says Untoo, adding, “after having lost seven members of my family in Kashmir conflict and spending 16 years in different jails and mental asylums, it’s only my faith in humanity that keeps me going. There are Ulemas who are opposed to donation and transplantation of human organs in our state. But they should learn from the example of Islamic country, Indonesia—which has finally allowed organ donation and transplantation after detailed deliberations on this matter.”


“Neither the chief minister nor Shabir Shah has approached us for sending my daughter abroad for advanced treatment (as promised by the Chief Minister) or an eye transplant as yet,” says Insha’s father, Mushtaq Ahmad. “My daughter has lost vision in both eyes, completely....And, we’ve finally returned home.”

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