By Sandeep Sahu
There is something fundamentally wrong with our governance that stirs the administration into action only after something has assumed the proportions of a full blown crisis. The same flaw makes the government machinery take its foot off the pedal the moment the crisis is over. And get hyper-active after another crisis blows in its face.
Let us consider a few examples from the recent past that proves this point. The state government swung into action after reports of 18 malnutrition deaths hit the headlines in Nagada village in Jajpur district. Doctors’ teams reached the inaccessible village; plans were drawn up for construction of a road to this remote village; appeals were made to the people to come down from the hills and settle on the foothills. Then suddenly and inevitably, it was back to business as usual the moment Nagada went off the media radar.
To take another example, after 27 members travelling in a rickety old bus fell to death at the Gailo ghat in Deogarh district in May this year, there was brave talk of ‘strictly’ enforcing the rules for passenger buses. Had the promise made at the time been fulfilled, the Athmallick mishap on September 9 could perhaps have been averted. But then in the system of governance that we have put in place, promises are made by the government only to assuage public outrage following a crisis without any real intention of carrying them out.
The case of the spread of the deadly Japanese encephalitis in Malkangiri is no different. It has taken 34 infant deaths in less than a month for the government to wake up to the gravity of the situation. What we are witnessing right now is a rerun of the time-tested routine: hectic ‘review’ meetings, followed by dispatch of teams of doctors to the affected areas, fogging, efforts at segregating the pigs that are the carriers of this vector-borne disease from humans and so on.
It is not as if it is the first time the deadly mosquito-borne has spread its wings in this remote, poverty stricken district. The disease first raised its ugly head in 2011 and has recurred almost every year since then taking a heavy toll of human lives. But little was done in the preceding years to prevent its recurrence in future. That the disease is carried to humans via pigs is well-known. The government could not have been unaware of the fact that timely vaccination – and segregation of pigs from humans – is just about the only way to fight this menace. And yet, it did precious little to prevent a recurrence. The measures being initiated now should have been taken long ago. Vaccination is being talked about (and a subtle attempt made to put the blame on the Centre) at a time when the disease has already assumed epidemic proportions. Segregation of pigs and humans, which should have been done in the first year itself, is being thought of only now. This when anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the disease knows that it always spreads during the monsoon.
What we are witnessing in Malkangiri now has been seen every time there has been a disease outbreak anywhere in the state. Just recall the jaundice deaths in Sambalpur and infant deaths in Cuttack last year or the jaundice outbreak in Cuttack and other places this March-April this year. The worst part is remedy for all these diseases are well known: end to open defecation and replacement of leaking water pipelines in case of jaundice, vaccination for a host of diseases and so on. And yet, the rotting pipelines continue to rot, human excreta continues to be released into open drains and vaccination is remembered only when a disease has taken on epidemic form.
It is not as if it is only the present government that is guilty of such apathy. Every government in post-independent India, including the Central government, shares this trait of hurtling from one crisis to another. The major reason for this is that the people are yet to demand accountability from the government they elect. The day they do that, governments would hopefully stop coming up with what is called the ‘band aid’ solution to major health issues. Till such time, only god can save those who are unfortunate enough to fall victim to diseases.