The Supreme Court today gave the centre and Bihar governments seven days to respond to a petition alleging the deaths of more than 140 children in Muzaffarpur were "a direct result of negligence and inaction" in handling outbreaks of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) and Japanese encephalitis.
The top court instructed both parties to respond on three issues - nutrition levels, medical facilities and hygiene levels. The Centre informed the Supreme Court that the situation is now under control and steps are being taken to address the issue.
According to the Bihar health department, the AES outbreak affected 20 of 40 districts and more than 600 children since June 1. Muzaffarpur has been the worst affected with 430 children admitted so far, of whom 129 died.
Speaking to NDTV, Muzaffarpur lawmaker Ajay Nishad, who earlier claimed the state made a "few tiny mistakes" in tackling the outbreak, said his government would respond to the notice. He also claimed that with the onset of rains, conditions had improved and numbers of new patients had reduced.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was criticised for his government's delayed response to the health crisis. Mr Kumar made his first visit to Muzaffarpur, described as Ground Zero, 18 days after the outbreak struck. He was met by angry parents and protestors who chanted "Wapas jao (go back)".
State lawmakers Mangal Pandey and Ajay Nishad were also heavily criticised for insensitive remarks.
"The deaths of children are a direct result of negligence and inaction on the part of the respective state governments of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Union of India in handling the epidemical situation which arises every year due to outbreak of AES also called Japanese encephalitis," the plea said.
The Supreme Court, which also directed the Uttar Pradesh government to file a response after being informed of a similar plea in that state, was told by the centre that the situation was under control.
Teams of health officials from the Bihar government conducted a survey of 289 families in Muzaffarpur district and concluded that poverty, and not litchi consumption, was one of the major factors behind the deaths.
With inputs from PTI
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