HDK's briefing on Polio ends in apology

HDK's briefing on Polio ends in apology

Kumaraswamy addresses Revanna comments

Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy administer a polio vaccine to a child at his official residence, "Krishna" in Bengaluru. (DH Photo)

Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy's attempt to describe polio-fighting efforts in Karnataka went slightly off-script on Sunday morning when he was forced to apologize on behalf of his brother, H.D. Revanna, over allegations of sexism.

The Chief Minister began the 30-minute-long briefing by calling on parents across the state to re-vaccinate children under the age of five. "Because people in Pakistan and Afghanistan have neglected their children, resulting in a failure to eradicate polio, the government of Karnataka has initiated a programme to vaccinate 64,85,980 children," he said.

In 2018, 33 cases of polio were reported in Afghanistan and Pakistan – up from 22 cases in 2017. Although India has been certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as being polio-free since 2014, health officials said that they are following a mantra of "it is not over, till it is over everywhere."

A WHO official who declined to be identified because he was not cleared to talk to the press, said that it is unclear when polio will be eradicated from the region because the disease persists in those parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan where governmental control is limited.

According to the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Karnataka has marshalled 32,737 immunization booths across the state for the polio drive, plus 51,972 teams, 1,03,944 "vaccinators," 6,546 supervisors, 2,481 mobile teams and 4,300 transit teams.

"If parents are unable to take their children to hospitals or health centres for immunization, health workers will carry out door-to-door visits," Kumaraswamy said.

Dr Suresh Shastri of the Department of Health and Family Welfare explained the polio drive would immunize an estimated 92 to 95 per cent of children under the age of five in the State on Sunday, with house-to-house visits taking target totals to 100 per cent by Tuesday.

"My primary concern is the development of Karnataka," the Chief Minister added during his briefing, segueing into a declaration that he had met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to request a Rs 2,064 crore government subsidy to help compensate for drought in the state.

He also explained that he sought to bring farmers in the National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (NREGS), in order to reduce the migration of agriculturists. This declaration, however, came with a refrain against the central government, with Kumaraswamy telling reporters that the Modi government had not yet released Rs 1,300 crores earmarked for the employment scheme.

The matter of remarks by H.D. Revanna, who had described actor Sumalatha, wife of the late Sandalwood star and Member of Parliament, Ambareesh, as defying traditional Hindu norms by vying for political office after her husband's demise, prompted Mr Kumaraswamy to declare that he is always concerned with protecting women's rights.

"Where women are respected, God resides in that place," he said, and added, "On behalf of my brother, I apologize for his statement."

Revanna, who is Karnataka's Minister for Energy, had come under criticism for saying on Saturday that, "It has not even been a month since [Sumalatha's] husband died, and she is already harbouring political aspirations. See what level they have stooped to." Ambareesh died in November 2018.