Bihar lawmaker Dinesh Chandra Yadav today defended colleague and state health minister Mangal Pandey for asking reporters the cricket score during a press conference held yesterday to discuss the encephalitis outbreak in the state. "Everyone knows that when the match between India Pakistan happens, there is a feeling of nationalism," the Janata Dal (United) parliamentarian said, playing down concerns the incident betrayed the government's lack of care.
The encephalitis outbreak has killed 126 children so far, with 107 deaths reported from Muzzaffarpur and its surrounding districts alone.
"He did everything in the meeting with seriousness and when he asked the score, why the opposition exaggerating this and making it an issue?" Mr Yadav asked, adding, "The Chief Minister is sensitive on these issues (the encephalitis outbreak)."
At a press meet held yesterday by Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Mangal Pandey had enquired about the latest score in the cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan, which was taking place in England at the time. "How many wickets have fallen till now?" he was heard asking in a video posted by news agency ANI.
Opposition parties, including the RJD, the Congress and the Left were swift to demand Mr Pandey's resignation for displaying "insensitivity" at a time when the state was facing a major threat.
The state has come under fire for its delayed response to the outbreak, with angry protesters today chanting "Wapas jao (go back)" at Chief Minister Nitish Kumar when he visited the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzzaffarpur. Mr Kumar was making his first visit to Ground Zero since the outbreak began 17 days ago.
Asked about the encephalitis outbreak, Mr Yadav played down concerns, insisting that what he called the "unfortunate incident of Muzzaffarpur" would end with the arrival of rains.
"The incident of Muzaffarpur is unfortunate but from many years this is happening. If the rain will start, this disease will end," he declared, adding that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was "sensitive on these issues".
With input from ANI
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