Some lives are more precious than others

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By Sandeep Sahu

The inevitable has finally happened. Four days after the fire mishap at SUM hospital on Monday evening that has so far killed 25 people, Health minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak has submitted his resignation on ‘moral grounds’. The SUM tragedy has thus achieved what the equally tragic death of over 60 children in Malkangiri due to Japanese encephalitis, 19 children due to malnutrition in Nagada and the shame of Dana Majhi carrying the body of his wife on his shoulders for 10 kms could not.

No one is really fooled by the ”moral ground’ crap. Indian politicians in the 21st century don’t resign because of pinpricks of conscience. They resign only when their leader asks them to or when their position becomes untenable because of a court verdict or public outrage. It appears that both these grounds were applicable in case of Atanu. After all, if he has indeed resigned on ‘moral grounds’ as he has claimed, why did it take four full days for his conscience to wake up? As Health minister of the state, he could not have been unaware of the flagrant violation of all rules and norms SUM hospital. He obviously thought he could brazen it out like he has done in the cases cited earlier and resigned only when he was asked to.

Atanu’s resignation, in itself, is no big deal. Ministers come and ministers go, but the ‘system’ so painstakingly put in place by the corrupt and unholy nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and unscrupulous businessmen over the years goes on for ever. Now that Atanu has resigned, is there a guarantee that health care in the state would improve dramatically? Will all private hospitals do in a jiffy what they have refused to all these years by putting in place foolproof fire safety measures? Will death of infants due to malnutrition or Japanese encephalitis suddenly become a thing of the past? Nope.

All it will do is provide fodder for the media for a couple of days to dig out or speculate about the circumstances leading to the resignation and some internal turmoil in the BJD, especially its Kendrapara district unit. No matter who succeeds Atanu, we can rest assured that health care services would remain as abysmal as they have always been, adherence to safety rules as lax as it has always been and the people at large would remain as helpless as they have always been.

L’ affaire SUM is also a sign of our urban centric worldview. The death of 25 people in a Bhuabaneswar hospital causes all hell to break loose – with TV channels giving it round the clock coverage and resulting in the resignation of the Health minister – while the death of over 60 children in Malkangiri remains a mere footnote. Where do the moral pangs that politicians discover to make a virtue out of a necessity in times like these vanish when children die due to malnutrition in Nagada? Why does the demand for resignation of the Health minister by opposition parties for the deaths in Malkangiri and Nagada lack the stridency that marks the same demand after a SUM? We often grumble about national TV channels not giving Odisha adequate coverage. But have we ever stopped to think how much coverage have our own Odia channels given to the great human tragedy unfolding in our own backyard?

Heart breaking though it may appear, the answer to all these questions is: some lives are more precious than others!