Health Law & Justice

SC notice to govt on plea blaming inaction for AES deaths

The Centre and Bihar government have been ordered by the Supreme Court to respond to a petition that blamed the death of scores of children due to acute encephalitis syndrome in Muzaffarpur on negligence and inaction by health authorities.

“Deaths are a serious issue as most who have died are children… Deaths cannot go on,” a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai said during the hearing on a public interest petition.

The bench said the petition raise “some very serious issues” that would require an explanation. The government, it said, would have to satisfy the court that there was no laxity and there was an adequate number of doctors and medicines. The court also wanted the government to explain nutrition, health and hygiene issues.

The petition had complained that there were a shortage of doctors, beds and intensive care units to deal with an epidemic-level situation, which had resulted in more than 126 reported death of children in Bihar, particularly in Muzaffarpur. Manohar Pratap, the lawyer who filed the petition last week, said the children were mostly in the age group of one to 10 years.

The disease, which has led to 152 deaths in Bihar, has spread to 20 of the state’s 38 districts. But health officials point out that the number of cases was on the decline.

Since the first fatality was reported on June 5, the state government’s response has been criticized with many saying that Muzaffarpur’s “poor” healthcare system was overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak.

During the hearing, one of the lawyers informed the court that similar deaths had occurred earlier in Uttar Pradesh. The court took note of it and directed the state government to file its response as well. The matter has been posted for hearing after 10 days.

“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 the outbreak of AES also called Japanese encephalitis,” the petition said.