- Centre's support to Bihar is based on PM's guidance, Harsh Vardhan said
- The minister said it was on PM's instructions that he visited Muzaffarpur
- Encephalitis outbreak in Bihar has claimed lives of 136 children so far
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan today said that the encephalitis outbreak in Bihar, which has claimed the lives of 136 children so far, is being constantly monitored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. "PM @narendramodi has been constantly monitoring the situation in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. It was as per his instructions that I went to Muzaffarpur. Based on PM's guidance, Centre is providing all possible support to the Bihar Government. We are committed to defeating this illness," he said in a tweet today.
The Health Minister's statement comes at a time when opposition parties and social activists are alleging that the NDA governments at the state and central levels are not treating the outbreak with the importance it deserves. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was even greeted with "go back" slogans during a visit to Muzaffarpur earlier this week.
Statistics released by the Bihar Health Department today said that 626 children have been diagnosed with the viral disease across the state since the start of this year, and despite the administration's best efforts, as many as 136 died so far. Although Muzaffarpur district bore the brunt of the outbreak with 117 deaths, casualties were also reported from other districts such as Bhagalpur, East Champaran, Vaishali, Sitamarhi and Samastipur.
According to news agency IANS, Nitish Kumar refused to say anything on the subject to mediapersons during an event in Patna today. Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal, which has alleged government apathy, refused to attend a dinner called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protest encephalitis-related deaths in the state. "Medicines and essential equipment could have been procured from the amount that's being spent on organising this dinner," said party leader Misa Bharti.
Meanwhile, a debate broke out in the state on suggestions that the encephalitis outbreak could have been caused due to the consumption of lychees. Experts claim that a toxin found in unripe lychee could cause hypoglycemia -- a condition caused by a dip in blood sugar levels -- resulting in the disease.
Bihar Agriculture Minister Prem Kumar said a team of experts has been formed to probe if the fruit actually has a role to play in the outbreak. "We have constituted a team of agriculture scientists and horticulture experts to probe whether lychee is responsible for the deaths in Muzaffarpur and beyond," news agency ANI quoted him as saying.
BJP lawmaker Rajiv Pratap Rudy, however, claimed that the unsubstantiated theory would only end up hurting lychee farmers in the state. "We are told that eating lychees may be the cause of encephalitis in Bihar. But we have been having this fruit since childhood and nothing ever happened to us," news agency PTI quoted him as saying during a debate in parliament.
Over the past week, ministers at both state and central levels came in for allegations of "negligent behaviour" at a time when Bihar was facing a serious health crisis. While Union Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey had his eyes deceptively shut during a press meet on encephalitis on Sunday, Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey drew widespread criticism for enquiring about an ongoing cricket match at another event held for the purpose. Later, Muzaffarpur parliamentarian Ajay Nishad admitted that the government may have made some "small mistakes" in its battle against encephalitis.
(With inputs from Agencies)