by Chhattisgarh Lok Swatantrya Sangathan (People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh)
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Chhattisgarh expresses its grief and outrage at the deaths of so many young women as the outcome of laproscopic sterilization camps in Bilaspur district in the past week. So far 13 women have died as a consequence of the camp held at Nemichand Jain Hospital at Takhatpur, and a woman of the Primitive Tribal Baiga group as a result of the camp at Gaurela. Dozens of women are ill to the point of risk to life. Almost all were from BPL families.
In the first incident an experienced surgeon who had been honoured earlier this year for having performed enormous numbers of laparoscopic sterilization operations, singlehandedly performed 83 operations in a five hour period with a single laproscope – a circumstance which by itself establishes that adequate aseptic precautions would not and indeed could not have been effected. The camp at Takhatpur was conducted in a private charitable hospital which had remained closed for a year where the physical infrastructure was absolutely abysmal.
These circumstances are routine and they are replicated in “family planning” camps all across the country, in direct and deliberate contravention of the Central Government guidelines formulated in response to Supreme Court orders of 2005 (Ramakant Rai vs Govt. Of India) and 2012 (Devika Biswas vs Govt. Of India), that direct that a medical team can conduct a maximum of 30 operations in a day with three separate laproscopes, and that one doctor cannot do more than 10 sterlisations in a day. The guidelines also state that all sterilisation camps must be organised in established government facilities.
Serious and substantial doubts have been raised about the quality of medication used in these camps. Ironically the Chhattisgarh State Human Rights Commission in their inspections in the year 2009-2010 had recorded that expired drugs, fungus-ridden drugs, and untested drugs manufactured at local facilities were found in the stores and operation theatres of District Hospitals at Durg, Bilaspur, Kondagaon and Rajnandgaon. In most of the cases little follow up action had been taken by the government. Despite the fact that the Purchase Committee for the drugs was headed by Health Minister Amar Agrawal, the Government has refused to accept any liability for the tragedy.
So far one doctor has been arrested, however, as per newspaper reports, the private local manufacturers in Raipur who were supplying the drugs used in the camps, had already destroyed a significant part of their stocks prior to raids by the Special Investigation Team of the Police.
While the State Government has announced a Judicial Enquiry by District Judge Anita Jha, it does not inspire confidence that another Judicial Enquiry headed by the same Judge into the Fake Encounter of a minor adivasi girl Meena Khalkho has not made any progress since its announcement in June 2012.
Target based coercive female sterilization has had serious consequences all over the country, and in the case of malnutritioned and routinely anaemic women of poor families, fatal ones. Yet the State has continued and rewarded such a policy. In the case of the Baiga tribes where permission is required to be taken from the Collector prior to conducting sterilization, the same was not taken. Perhaps following the procedure could have ensured that the Baiga women could have been provided safer medical conditions.
The State of Chhattisgarh has been seeing a series of medical catastrophes – blindness and even deaths of patients after cataract operation camps in 2011, the scandal of a large number of unnecessary hysterectomies only to extract “smart card” payments, a large number of malaria deaths, and recently a number of jaundice deaths in Raipur and other cities owing to contamination of drinking water by sewage.
The High Level Expert Group of the Planning Commission on Universalization of Health Care in 2013 clearly recommended that all citizens should be able to access equitably tax based, publicly provisioned health facilities and programmes of adequate quality. In our country this is the only way forward to avoid major epidemiological and social tragedies like the present. The Chhattisgarh PUCL further notes with concern that the present development model being pursued by the State Government is resulting in impoverishing a large section of the people who are easy victims of such incidents
The Chhattisgarh PUCL demands:-
- A credible Judical Enquiry should be conducted expeditiously into the present incidents preferably by a Retired Supreme Court Judge and the results made public at the earliest.
- The said Enquiry should establish whether the norms laid down repeatedly by the Supreme Court have been violated and if so how.
- All those responsible for the manufacture, quality control, and supply of spurious drugs should be identified and brought to justice.
- The Chhattisgarh Government should immediately consult medical experts at the highest level to lay down stringent guidelines regarding the conduct of various types of health camps.
- Targeted approach for female sterilization must be done away with.
- Steps should be taken toward the implementation of the recommendations of the High Level Expert Group on Universalization of Health Care.
Dr. Lakhan Singh (President)
Adv. Sudha Bharadwaj (General Secretary)