A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and B R Gavai in today’s order, said “This is a serious concern. Deaths cannot keep happening. We need answers.” Further, the bench directed the Bihar government to file an affidavit on the adequacy of medical facilities, nutrition and sanitation and hygiene conditions in the state. The apex court also asked if policy initiatives are in place. The court said that there were reports about villages where no children were left. Evoking instances of similar problem faced in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the Supreme Court questioned how UP coped with the situation.
Stating that negligence by the State is violative of the Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of our Constitution, the petition read, “Right to Life is sacrosanct fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This Hon’ble Court in catena of judgements has accepted it has highest in all fundamental rights. The present act of negligence by the respondents who are ‘State’ within the framework of Indian Constitution has resulted in the death of hundreds of young innocent lives. This continuing act of negligence on the part of state is consistently violating the fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
The petitioners further contended, “This year i.e in 2019, the epicentre of the said disease is Muzaffarpur in Bihar where more than 126 children have lost their lives in the past one week. Media reports shows that there is acute shortage of doctors, medical facilities, intensive care units and other medical equipment in the hospitals in nearby areas and children are dying in hospitals due to lack of required facilities.”
The PIL also pleaded before the SC to direct the government for arranging 500 ICUs and 100 mobile ICUs and further direct all private medical institutions in the affected area to admit and provide free treatment. It even sought a compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs to the surviving family members of the deceased who have died due to the negligence of the state machinery.
The SC order comes on a day when the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Muzaffarpur has also ordered a probe against Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey in the matter.
Symptoms of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) include high fever, convulsions and extremely low blood sugar levels. Among the factors said to trigger the syndrome are malnutrition. There were more than 44,000 cases and nearly 6,000 deaths from encephalitis in India between 2008 and 2014, said a 2017 study published in The Indian Journal of Medical Research (IJMR).
The petition was filed considering the rapid increase in the number of deaths of children, mostly in the age group of 1 to 10 years, in the past few weeks with the latest figure being 152 of which 130 alone are from the Muzaffarpur.
The next hearing is scheduled on July 5, 2019.