Nitish Kumar breaks silence over encephalitis deaths in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, says ‘expressing grief is not enough’

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar finally broke his silence over the deaths of children in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur due to the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). At the Bihar Assembly on Monday, he said, “What happened is extremely unfortunate, expressing grief is not enough, it is an extremely serious issue. We have held several meetings and discussed the issue at length,” as reported by ANI.

“I held a meeting at AIIMS Patna in 2015 and various experts had different views as to what is the reason of it. A report was even sent to the US to get expert opinion on it and all had different views,” he added.

He had earlier visited the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in the district along with his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi, to take stock of the situation, where more than 300 children had been admitted with complaints of AES since 1 June. However, due to the alleged inaction by the authorities, the people’s anger spilled over to the street in face of the crisis-like situation.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan also visited the hospital to take stock of the situation. His cavalcade too was stopped by protesters while he was returning from Muzaffarpur to Patna and black flags were waved at him. The police then resorted to mild baton charge to disperse the crowd.

About a week ago, there was a demonstration by Indian Youth Congress and Bihar Congress unit demanding the resignations of Harsh Vardhan and Nitish. The protesters chanted anti-government slogans. The demonstrators were later detained by the police. “The government is sleeping. Even the health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan is sleeping. At least for the sake of the children, he should come out from his house and take action against those responsible for this. This is a shameful incident,” Mumbai Youth Congress chief Suraj Thakur told ANI.

“Nitish Kumar is also silent on this issue. He does not even speak to the media when asked about the incident. Encephalitis has claimed lives of over 170 children in the state’s Muzaffarpur,” he added.

Nitish returned to the state capital and held an emergency review meeting on the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) situation with officials. After the meeting, the government swung into action, declaring it would bear the expense for treatment of those found with the syndrome even if the treatment took place at private hospitals.

Bihar government had also announced an ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of the children who died due to AES. It also directed the health department, district administration, and doctors to take necessary measures for the containment of the disease.

Litchi appeared to be a likely culprit as the outbreaks of AES have happened annually during summer months in Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts since 1995, coinciding with the litchi season. Similar outbreaks of neurological illness have been observed in litchi-growing regions of Bangladesh and Vietnam as well. But local doctors blame the unabated heat in the state.