“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana
This was said in early 20th century, but still it has relevancy. Talking in particular of Bihar and the whole country in general, our executive always failed us in the time of tragedies. The acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) outbreak in Bihar in 2019 exposed the condition of health infrastructure in the state. Whether it was British era or after independence, Bihar aghast by innumerable calamities but our executive never learnt from it and today’s corona pandemic is not an exception to it.
Whether it was hasty announcement of demonetization or 21 days complete lockdown due to corona virus pandemic indicates that we never prepared for its repercussion and the hardest hit by those decisions are people who are daily wage earners or those belongs to lower class strata of the society, to say almost more than 80%.
Talking particularly of Bihar the condition is grimmer and an unwelcomed hardship for the poor. State of around 12 crore population, Bihar is a farmer as well as labor (daily wage migrated) producing state. In Human Development Index (HDI), along with its sister state Uttar Pradesh, Bihar remains on the bottom of the ladder.
The growth rate of Bihar’s economy in 2017-18 was 11.3 percent (4.3 points more than national growth), increasing from 9.9 percent a year before. But the question remains, is the benefits of this growth percolates to the poor section of the society?
According to India Meteorological Department (IMD) Bihar suffered the most with 650 deaths due to various extreme weather conditions in the country in 2019. Since 1990s, Muzaffarpur has recorded many child deaths, majority of the victims were less than 10 years of age and from poor families. As per National Family Health Survey 48.3 per cent of Bihar’s children under five years are ‘stunted’, 15.2 per cent severely underweight and 20.8 per cent wasted owing to poor nutrition. Famine is not alien to Bihar, the story of poor condition and suffering of poor in the state is highly malleable.
Moving towards Bihar’s health preparedness, data is only disappointing.
State with a GDP of Rs 5,72,827 crore allocated only Rs 9157 crore, that is 1.5% of the total GDP, to its health sector.
This meager spending on health is not only restricted to Bihar, to say union government spends only 1.4% of its total budget outlay on health sector. Bihar is one of the tops in the matter of lowest availability of bed and doctors per patient. As per India today report, doctor-population ratio in Bihar is 1:17,685, as against the national average of 1:11,097. The grim condition doesn’t end here, unfolding reveals that Bihar is worst equipped to detect the recent coronavirus cases.
The purpose of highlighting all these is to make our reader aware about the pathetic condition of our health infrastructure in general and of Bihar in particular and unravel the plight of the migrant workers in different part of the country, particularly Delhi, disdained by Centre as well as state government.
Bihar is always pioneer in taking measures, rather to awake from sleep after the fatality caused by the calamities instead of preparedness. Whether it is frequent spell of yearly flood making 76% of its population prone to devastation, 2018 monsoon season which left Bihar mostly dry and forced Nitish Kumar government to declare 280 (out of 534) blocks in 25 out of 38 districts as drought-affected, flood in Patna in 2019, acute encephalitis syndrome (Chamki Bhukar) in same year or recent corona virus bulging cases, government’s never ending learning course is still going on. As of now there is one death and 15 confirmed cases are in Bihar.
To fight with corona, we don’t have prerequisite number of doctors required and most important, doctors who are available have not provided with Personal protection equipment (PPE) required while treating corona virus patients.
Junior Doctor’s Association (JDA) president Dr Ravi Ranjan of Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH) said that “We are still on duty without PPE kit. I know many of us will be infected because we are totally exposed to this virus. But who cares?
Health department has clearly ignored the instructions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and compelled doctors, nurses, para medical staff and others on duty in hospital without any protective measures6. Report says that till now 83 doctors are themselves supposed to be infected from the virus and recently a 20-year-old man, who worked as a ward boy at a private hospital in Patna has tested positive. No one knows the extent to which it goes. But it is sure that government’s inaction and lackadaisical approach toward the common people and increasing alarming rate of patients clearly exposes faulty line of management and absence or if present then a directionless modus operandi.
It is not like that this emergency arises out of vacuum; cases were started to report from December 2019. On 30 January, WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). On 11 March, WHO Director General characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. But our executives came into action after 3 months which clearly reflects that how much our government is concerned about the health and welfare of common people.
On 17th March 30, 2020 Bihar government has ordered closure of government and private
hostels with immediate effect throughout the state in view of Coronavirus outbreak. But unfortunately, the myopic government could not think of the lockdown amid the report of lockdown and quarantine from across the world!
This lockdown started from 25th March throws us two possibilities, first the state was not consulted before the decision taken by the central government, destroying the very essence of so called ‘cooperative federalism’ and second if state was consulted than state government took their poor masses as granted, rather those who can be taken into consideration only during
Otherwise it could have arranged for them a safe arrival to their home state. No sensitive person can forget the cry of helpless women and children and mass exodus of migrant workers walking the long roads home. They choose to walk home in place of dying hungry without any support from the Centre and state governments. If government is arranging something, then it destined to fail due to lack of coordination among states. Recently Uttar Pradesh government has made arrangements for 1000 buses, but Bihar government expressed its displeasure over the move by UP regime and other states for such arrangements. As Nitish Kumar said “the entire purpose of lockdown will be defeated if thousands of migrants are sent to Bihar by buses”.
It clearly shows that either Bihar has no medical facility to check their people on check-post itself or Bihar government set aside itself from taking the responsibility of their own people.
Meanwhile the atrocities of the police on the poor walking people itself says that how much our governments are concerned for the poor masses and abandoned them to their horrific plights.
– Apurva Kumar (Writer is a journalism student at Delhi School of Journalism, University of Delhi)