Gorakhpur tragedy: Yogi Adityanath govt got priorities wrong, it focused on patriotism when people died

Shut your left nostril. Now shut the right one as well. Stay that way for 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 60 seconds.

Now imagine this is not a yoga class. And the fingers belong to the state.

Welcome to India @70. The mythical land of milk and honey but short on oxygen for children and has Lord Yama, the God of death, on speed dial. Where the state indeed has its finger on the pulse but only to check if you are dead or alive.

Cartoon by Manjul.

Cartoon by Manjul.

An inside view of a ward of BRD Hospital in Gorakhpur on Friday where at least 30 children died since the past two days. PTI

An inside view of a ward of BRD Hospital in Gorakhpur on Friday where at least 30 children died since the past two days. PTI

Thirty children, suffering from encephalitis, a killer disease that visits Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh every monsoon, died at the Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College in the last 48 hours. The death toll in the last five days is said to be 63. Since 1978, this hospital has an average of over 200 deaths per bed, making Gorakhpur highly endemic to encephalitis.

But the 30 patients who died did not succumb to the disease. Rs 68,58,596 could have saved their life but the hospital administration reportedly did not clear arrears of this amount with the firm that supplied the oxygen cylinders. The result was the firm withdrew the service, leaving the children gasping for breath. The cold irony is you cannot even say the kids breathed their last.

Someone at the Secretariat in Lucknow, I can bet, must be working the calculator to decide on the exgratia amount to be given to each grieving parent. That feudal manner of giving compensation that lends to the state a mask of benevolence. Let me help. Rs 68,58,596 divided by 30 would come to Rs 2.28 lakh per patient.

If only Yogi Adityanath's government had cleared that sum of money to the oxygen supplier, it would not possibly have had blood on its hands today. Or converted eastern Uttar Pradesh home to these tiny graves.

Incidentally, Yogi Adityanath had also been the MP from Gorakhpur since 1998 and was more than familiar with the problem of the outbreak of encephalitis in his former constituency. He has raised this issue in Parliament and has in the past, when the Samajwadi Party was in power, demanded that it should be declared an epidemic. Most of the victims are from the lower strata of society — Dalits and Muslims — who have no access to treatment facilities at primary health centres or even district hospitals.

Incidentally, the chief minister was at the hospital this week to inaugurate a ten bed ICU, a six-bed critical care unit and visited the ward where children infected with encephalitis were admitted. Knowing how hospitals are done up before a VIP visit, one can safely assume the place was spruced up to ensure no skeletons came tumbling out of the cupboard.

Did no one pass on the SOS to the chief minister about the arrears?

On predictable lines, the Uttar Pradesh government has denied any disruption of oxygen supply. Strangely this is not what its officials on the ground are saying. To live in denial is always the standard escape procedure of those in power. I am reminded of the tragedy at Hyderabad's Gandhi hospital when 21 patients died on 22 July and it was attributed to power outage because of which many specialty wards including surgical ICU, neonatal ICU, respiratory ICU plunged into darkness. The four standby generators also developed snag at the same time.

However, a subsequent probe by engineers gave the hospital a clean chit, arguing ten deaths die every day, on an average at the hospital. Similar to the Uttar Pradesh government's defence that says 12 patients die at BRD hospital every day. This is the 'chalta hai, all in a day's work' attitude to bereavement.

But even while claiming the disruption in oxygen supply is not the reason for the deaths, the police has raided the office of the oxygen supplier.

What gets one's goat is that instead of fixing this huge medical problem in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the government puts the patriotism test higher up on the priority list. In fact, even as these children were choking to death, one of Adityanath's ministers was directing all madrassas (Islamic schools) to hold celebrations on Independence Day and videograph the event. This was followed by a warning that action will be taken against those madrassas that do not follow the order.

Minister of state for minority welfare Baldev Aulakh had company in Times Now, that debated the Independence Day story instead of Gorakhpur on its 9 pm show on Friday. When a panellist mentioned the BRD hospital deaths, he was brusquely told by the anchor not to divert and focus on the real issue.

Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani could not get more farcical.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on many occasions in the past, has spoken about 'Stand Up India.' Yes, Mr prime minister, I think it is high time we stand up for the issues that really matter. Whether anyone sings or does not sing the national anthem in a cinema theatre on 15 August is not a matter of life and death. But when 30 kids die in 48 hours for lack of oxygen at a government hospital in the 70th year of Independence it is indeed so.

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Updated Date: Nov 03, 2017 15:21 PM

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