Most AES victims were from poor families: Nitish Kumar

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar along with deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi visits children suffering from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) at a hospital in Muzaffarpur district. (PTI File Photo)

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar broke his silence on Monday over the deaths of more than 150 children due acute encephalitis syndrome in Muzaffarpur district, saying an integrated approach would be adopted for the upliftment of the poor who suffered the most.

Kumar expressed profound grief over the matter that drew rage against his government from across the country and added that not much was known about the disease.

"It's a very very unfortunate incident. We just cannot express our regret (towards the incident)," he said in the assembly. "It's a very serious issue.... It was quite evident after meeting the attendants of patients and victims during my visit to the SKMCH that most of the victims belonged to poor families."

Kumar, who had visited the Shri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur when the AES death counts had mounted last month, had faced protests and avoided the volley of questions from the media. The outbreak has claimed 154 lives so far.

"People are still clueless as to what the disease is all about as it is still being called a syndrome," he said. "It (incidents of children deaths) pains and affects other works in the government too."

The chief minister was making an intervention during the government's reply on the adjournment motion on the issue moved by the Opposition.

Kumar rued the "pathetic condition" of the SKMCH, saying he was pained with the state of affairs of the hospital and took a decision to enhance its capacity to 2,500 beds from the 610.

He said the government had ordered a socio-economic survey to ascertain the economic condition of the victim's families, adding that it would be ensured that they get the benefits of the state government's various schemes.

The chief minister said such poor and vulnerable families would be linked to self-help groups to make them aware about the benefits of the government schemes and taking preventive measures to check the spread of disease.

He said the number of anganwadi centres would be increased and every household would have toilets by October 2.

Kumar said those who have been left out in the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana would be included in the state's affordable housing scheme with a financial assistance of Rs 1.20 lakh. He added that the state government would give Rs 60,000 to buy a piece of land to those who are enlisted in the scheme.

They would also be given Rs 60,000-1 lakh under the 'Satat Jivikoparjan Yojana' in order to engage them in work to earn their livelihood, Kumar added.

Earlier, the Opposition walked out of the House, saying they would not listen to the Health Minister Mangal Pandey and insisted that the chief minister should speak on the issue. When Kumar started speaking, the Opposition legislators came back to the House.

Pandey asserted that the mortality rate had come down this year "significantly" in Muzaffarpur due to measures taken by the state government.

The health minister said the percentage of deaths as compared to the number of admissions of children in hospitals had declined to 21 per cent this year, which he said was 27 per cent in 2018, 29 per cent in 2017, 32 per cent in 2016 and 30 per cent in 2015.

Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Yadav, who has been facing flak over absence when the state was reeling under the impact of the AES deaths, was not present in the House. Senior RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui and other MLAs kept the heat on the ruling NDA over the matter.

Siddiqui, whose party has been demanding Pandey's resignation, said the incident had brought shame and disrepute to the state and suggested strengthening of primary health centres on the lines of one existing in Cuba.

Holding both the central and state governments responsible, Siddiqui said Prime Minister Narendra Modi took cognisance of the matter, but did not spoke anything as what facilities would be given to Bihar to deal with the situation.

Senior Congress leaders Sadanand Singh, Vijay Shankar Dubey, RJD leaders Lalit Yadav, Nematullah and CPI(ML)'s Mahboob Alam were among those who participated in the debate.

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