We failed, went by government’s false assurances: Patna High Court

Bihar’s desperate Covid-19 fight amid government’s negligence

Politics

May 13, 2021

/ By / Patna

We failed, went by government’s false assurances: Patna High Court

A woman pulling her Covid positive relative inside a hospital in Patna (PTI Photo)

Patna High Court has expressed grave dissatisfaction over the management of second wave of Covid-19 in Bihar & called it Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s failure. Ground realities, too, uncover horrors of mismanagement during the pandemic while people run helter-skelter to find some relief.

Only a day after bloated, decomposing bodies washed up on banks of the Ganga in Bihar’s Buxar, another 100 bodies, all suspected to be Covid-19 positive, were spotted floating in a river in Chausa village, located on Bihar’s border with Uttar Pradesh, on Tuesday, May 11. On the same day, to the horror of the locals, more bodies kept piling up on the bank.

“People woke up early morning to the grotesque sight and raised an alarm. The local administration believes the bodies floated down from Uttar Pradesh and belong to Covid-19 patients whose relatives may have been unable to find space to cremate or bury them,” says Shiv Kumar, a 34-year-old local from Chausa village.

As news spread through the day, panic gripped Chausa that the bodies could lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases in the village. The incident has also led to a blame game between the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh governments where neither is ready to accept their fault.

While the frightening new visuals expose the scale of India’s Covid-19 crisis and Bihar’s mismanagement of the pandemic act as a piece of evidence, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s government’s failure and lack of concern was highlighted by the Patna High Court.

High Court appalled & angry over mismanagement

Patna High Court accused Nitish Kumar’s government of not prioritising healthcare in Bihar (PTI Photo)

“We have all failed. All of us feel ashamed for what we have done. We cannot wait. We cannot play with the lives of the people, you may. It is an observation on us also that we have failed. This has happened only because we depended on the state officials and false assurances given by state officials,” a bench of Patna High Court said in a hearing early last week. HC went on to reprimand Bihar government for its handling of the crisis and ordered them to put a strict lockdown immediately.

The bench, comprising Justices Chakradhari Sharan Singh and Mohit Kumar Shah, said that the state government had failed to follow its previous directions and their implementation “remained on paper”.

“Like at the previous hearings, the bench was upset with the state government for not doing enough and observed that the court could not go on waiting and put the lives of people at risk,” Chandan Sharma, an advocate at Patna High Court, tells Media India Group.

The court also questioned the state government on the availability of bed, oxygen, drugs and manual power. “HC asked the state that it had spoken of 1,000 beds at the IGIMS (Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences) and 500 beds at the ESIC (Employees’ State Insurance) hospital, but it could not start. PMCH (Patna Medical College and Hospital) is in shambles, NMCH (Nalanda Medical College & Hospital) is struggling, it admitted,” Sharma says.

He further says that the initial orders were passed on April 15, about a month ago but neither could the state government arrange what it had promised nor could they answer properly to the HC. “They have nothing left to say to hide their failure. People of Bihar know what is happening and I don’t think there is anything the government can do now except hoping for a miracle,” adds Sharma.

Healthcare system collapses in Bihar

The court raised doubts about the functioning of dedicated Covid-19 health centres, saying most beds are vacant and there were no facilities there. Bench also took note of the black marketing of essential drugs and oxygen.

A CAG report on state’s healthcare in March, 2021 pointed out that vacancies for post of a physician was 61 pc, dentists at 69 pc and nurses at 92 pc and there have been no updates about filling up of these vacancies. The CAG report also observed that while construction of 12 medical colleges was taken up between 2006-07 and 2016-17, only two had become functional by 2018. The construction of only two nursing institutes could be completed till 2018 against a planned 61.

“The Government of Bihar did not make effective efforts to increase seats of existing medical colleges,” read the report. A shortage of medical equipment in five big medical colleges namely GMC Bettiah, DMCH Darbhanga, IGIMS Patna, NMCH Patna and PMCH Patna was also noted by the court.

A senior doctor from Buxar says that Bihar’s poor health infrastructure has grabbed headlines on several occasions over the past few years. In April-May 2020, the first wave of Covid-19 had brought to the fore the loopholes in the existing infrastructure. Earlier in 2019, more than 150 children had died due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES).

“I have been working here for past seven years. Lack of safe drinking water, hygienic food, regular visit of doctors and caregivers has always been a problem in this hospital and many other government hospitals in Bihar. If the hospital is in Patna, media will report it because it is the capital but you would no see anyone questioning the situation in other places in Bihar, especially the rural areas,” he tells Media India Group on the condition of anonymity.

He goes on to say that there is also a huge lack of reporting of the crisis from the ground and actual data is easily hidden. “You will only shout when you see the horror from the ground. The government paints a rosy picture and people believe that. The situation in the national capital Delhi has grabbed attention because it has been reported. I can assure you that you will be horrified to know that Bihar is in the same situation as Delhi, if not in worse,” he adds.

Paralysed health infrastructure in Patna

About 150 km east of Buxar which is in news over piling up of Covid-19 corpses on river banks, the state capital Patna is doing no better.

“Even as Covid-19 cases have surged in Bihar in the first week of May, and there is apparently no bed available in the existing hospitals. Even private hospitals are refusing admission to patients citing lack of beds, equipment, ventilators and oxygen,” says 40-years-old Purnima Sinha who lost her mother-in-law to the pandemic last week.

She says that she along with four more relatives including her mother-in-law had tested positive early this month. Despite several efforts to contact as many people as possible, they could not arrange for a hospital bed for the 66-year-old patient. “We called everyone we knew and contacted every possible hospital but no one agreed to admit her. She died a very painful death, gasping for breath and lacking medical treatment,” explains Sinha.

Similar to Sinha, Arvind Kumar, a doctor at NMCH Patna, says that despite being a doctor, he could not arrange for a hospital bed for a friend of his who succumbed to the virus last week. “I tried every hospital. We could not arrange for a bed for him. The hospital I work at is already flooded with Covid-19 patients and we cannot admit any more. I regret I could not save my friend but I would blame it more on the government that could not arrange and prepare for this situation in advance,” says Kumar.

“Nothing could be more ironical and heart-rending as patients keep dying outside without oxygen and ventilators and we are unable to do anything about it. For us doctors, it is our worst nightmare unfolding before our eyes,” he adds.

As the situation in Patna deteriorates day by day and cases rise in Bihar overall, many like Kumar, Sinha, and over 2,00,000 people who have lost their loved ones, blame the state government for its carelessness and insensitivity. But so far, the government has not even admitted to its failure, let alone address the issues urgently.

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