As the country celebrated 70 years of independence, one part of Mother India was grieving the death of close to 70 children in 7 days. It happened in Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur, the backyard of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Most of them did not die of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), as claimed by the government, but due to acute insensitivity of the authorities. Reports from various quarters speak of appalling callousness of doctors, bureaucrats and politicians who treated human beings less worthy than animals.
The government, caught on the wrong foot, tried to wriggle out of the situation citing unhygienic conditions, and not shortage of oxygen, as the cause for nipping so many young lives in the bud. But evidences prove otherwise. The Lucknow-based company which supplied oxygen to the hospital had send about a dozen reminders to various authorities stating that they would be forced to cut supply of the life-giving item if the hospital did not pay dues worth Rs 68 lakh immediately. Initial report by the district administration and several reports quoting parents of the deceased children and hospital staff confirm that there had been disruption in the supply of oxygen. The fact that half the deaths took place in neo-natal ward, the other half being in encephalitis ward, points the finger at shortage of oxygen as the villain in the whole episode.
All the waters of the Ganga will not wash away the bloodstains in the hands of those responsible for the loss of so many lives in one go. The ‘man-made’ catastrophe happened in an area which Yogi Adityanath represented in the Lok Sabha for two decades. He had raised the issue of encephalitis deaths several times in the House. But when he got the golden opportunity to solve the problem, as the Chief Minister of the State, he is passing the buck. It should prick the conscience of the Chief Minister that maximum deaths happened within 48 hours of his visit to the hospital for a review meeting.
It is easy to find scapegoats. The real culprit is the government whose priorities have gone topsy-turvy. It does not care to pay on time the unpaid bills of oxygen supply, the life line of any hospital. But it has no dearth of funds for putting in place a fleet of cow ambulances. These lopsided priorities and biases came out starkly when the saffron party, which deputed one of its senior-most Union Ministers to visit the family of an RSS worker killed in Kerala, dismissed the Gorakhpur’s heart-wrenching scenes as ‘one of those many incidents that happen across the country.’
The situation can be explained better through a scene from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The conversation is between Alice and a Cat. “Would you tell me which way I ought to go from here,” asks Alice. “It depends on where you want to get to,” answers the Cat. “I do not care much where I reach,” says Alice. “Then it does not matter which way you go,” the Cat replies. It is not enough for a government to reach somewhere. It should have a definite goal, a people-centred goal. Or else it will be groping in darkness, and many more Gorakhpurs will happen.
(Published on 21st August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 34)