A year of drawing flak for Odisha government (2016 In Retrospect)

Bhubaneswar, Dec 30 (IANS) The SUM Hospital tragedy, poor healthcare, shoddy handling of the Mahanadi water-sharing dispute and the CBI inquiry into the multi-crore chit fund scam dogged the Naveen Patnaik-led Odisha government in the outgoing year.

The “shame walk” of a tribal with his wife’s body, the death of 20 children due to malnutrition and the Japanese Encephalitis menace put the international glare on the lack of development and shambolic healthcare facilities in the eastern state.

The heart-wrenching image of Dana Majhi carrying the body of his wife on a long 10-km trek with a sobbing daughter walking alongside in Kalahandi district brought out the deprivation and utter hopelessness of lives of the poor and punctured the development claims of the government through the years.

Then again, around 20 tribal children died due to acute malnutrition in mineral-rich and industrially-vibrant Jajpur district in July.

It later came to light that the benefits provided by the state government had not reached the area till the issue cropped up.

The nutritional status of children remains far from encouraging in Odisha as the rate of stunting and wasting among children has shown only a marginal decline over the last 10 years, according to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS).

The report reveals that at least 34.1 per cent children under the age of five are stunted in the state.

In another case pointing to the deteriorating healthcare facilities, over 100 children died in Malkangiri district due to Japanese Encephalitis and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome this year. Despite being a part and parcel of KBK (Kalahandi, Balangir, Koraput) programme for years together, the health condition of the tribal people in the area has not improved satisfactorily.

“The health sector is in a mess in Odisha. Many primary health centres do not have doctors while several doctors are absent from duty. It is horrible that patients are lying on floors as they do not have beds in the hospitals. The health sector has been completely neglected by the state government,” said Leader of Opposition and senior Congress leader Narasingh Mishra.

As healthcare seemed in a shambles, the death of over 25 people in the Institute of Medical Sciences and SUM Hospitals fire in Bhubaneswar exposed the callousness of the state government towards the safety of patients.

The public outrage sparked by the tragedy brought to light that the medical facility was allowed to operate without the statutory fire safety certificate.

According to a note of the Director, Medical Education and Training (DMET), only three hospitals in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri — where more than 500 private hospitals and nursing homes operate — have fire safety certificates.

Health Minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak had to resign following the tragedy.

Even though the law-and-order situation remained largely peaceful, the death of five tribals in firing by security personnel in Kandhamal district in July sparked a row. The security personnel, hiding behind trees, opened fire on the villagers, who were returning at night in an auto-rickshaw to their village after attending a function. The victims included two women and a child.

Notably, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik holds the home portfolio. The beleaguered state government ordered a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) after coming under attack from opposition parties and civil society.

“The state government has completely failed to protect the lives of common people. More than 100 children died in Malkangiri, but the Chief Minister did not visit the area. The government is only concerned of its vote bank,” said state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Basant Panda.

The state government also came under attack from the opposition for its poor handling of the Mahanadi water-sharing dispute with Chhattisgarh. While the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government was demanding stoppage of construction of dams and barrages in the upper catchment area of the Mahanadi, the opposition tried to corner it for sitting idle for over 15 years on the issue.

Leader of Opposition Mishra said the state government knew about the construction of the barrage by the Chhattisgarh government since 2001.

“Construction of projects upstream on the Mahanadi by Chhattisgarh was in the knowledge of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his government. He had replied to an adjournment motion on April 10, 2001,” Mishra pointed out.

The last month of 2016 also did not pass well for the government. Bhubaneswar Mayor Ananta Narayan Jena, a leader of the state’s ruling BJD, got entangled in a sex scandal and murder case with the opposition upping the ante against the government for protecting the mayor.

Last but not the least, the CBI probing the multi-crore chit fund scam quizzed BJD’s Balasore MP Rabindra Jena for his alleged involvement in financial transactions with Seashore Group, which had duped thousands of investors in the state.

(This is a part of a series of articles from IANS that look back at the year that was. Chinmaya Dehury can be contacted at chinmaya.d@ians.in)

–IANS

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