New Delhi: A backlog of three years is what led to the marathon 101 female sterilisations that were carried out in a matter of hours in Chhattisgarh’s Surguja district in the end of August, according to state health department officials.
The fact that Mainpat, where the tubectomies were conducted, does not have a posting for a surgeon also added to the high number, officials said, pointing out that a surgeon from Ambikapur, located about 50 km away, travels to the town once a week and schedules as many procedures as possible for that day.
The Chhattisgarh government had ordered a probe into the mass sterilisations that took place on 27 August over a period of eight hours. The probe is still underway.
“We have started an inquiry and a committee has been set up. What local officials have told me is that no rules were violated, neither were there any untoward incidents. The surgeon does not come every day, that is why so many surgeries were done,” Chhattisgarh mission director, National Health Mission, Dr Priyanka Shukla told ThePrint.
No sterilisations took place in the last one-and-half years due to the Covid pandemic, but the streak lasted longer than that since there was no primary health centre in Mainpat.
It was only this July that services resumed, local health officials said, adding that a “pent up demand” led to so many surgeries in one day. Pointing out that no untoward incidents were reported, the officials added that no rules debar a competent health authority from holding such a marathon, provided all safeguards are in place.
Female sterilisations are India’s preferred method of family planning, despite the fact that it is a more complex surgery than male sterilisation (vasectomy) and other easier albeit temporary options such as pills and condoms.
Compared to the national average of 35.7 per cent, Chhattisgarh accounts for a higher proportion of female sterilisations in the country.
In 2015-16 when the NFHS-4 data was collected, female sterilisations made up 46.2 per cent of all family planning methods practised in Chhattisgarh. In comparison, male sterilisation accounted for 0.7 per cent, condoms accounted for 3.9 per cent, pills 1.7 per cent and intrauterine devices 1.6 per cent.
The national average for male sterilisations in the same period was a meagre 0.3 per cent.
‘Not a sterilisation camp’
A district health official, on the condition of anonymity, told ThePrint that the large number has brought about an incorrect impression that the state was holding a sterilisation camp.
The Supreme Court, in a 2016 judgment, had specifically ordered for such camps to be discontinued.
“This was not a camp. We are holding fixed-day services. But you have to understand that there was pent up demand for the last three years. Almost two years has been corona time, so we could not take up non-emergency procedures such as sterilisations. Before that, in Mainpat, we did not even have a primary health centre building where such surgeries could happen,” the official said.
“(Sterlisation) services started in July. There had not been much response initially. But on that particular day, the Mitanins (local health workers) brought a lot of women. The surgeons told us that they were pressured to do as many as possible rather than turning the women away,” the official added.
He also said that the district health department has it in writing from the women that they were undergoing the procedure willingly, without coercion.
“I do not understand what rules have we violated? There have been no casualties, no untoward incidents. We just made the most of the surgeon because he travels only once a week from Ambikapur. There was no bad intention, nobody made money from this. An inquiry has started and we will answer them,” the official said.
Despite the Supreme Court order and the government officially doing away with targets, activists allege that the mentality still survives, leading to such surges in procedures.
Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India, had told ThePrint that the message is yet to percolate, and there is a gap when it comes to seeing how schemes are implemented on the ground.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)