A file photo of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. | Photo: ANI
A file photo of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. | Photo: ANI
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Patna: Health politics has come a full circle in Bihar.

In June 2017, when Lalu Prasad’s eldest son Tej Pratap held the health portfolio in the Grand Alliance government, the IGIMS in Patna, one of the state’s premier government hospitals, had deployed three doctors and two paramedics on a 24-hour basis at 10 Circular Road, the official residence of former CM Rabri Devi.

The team was to monitor the health of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav who was so ill disposed that he could not attend the birthday bash organised for the late M. Karunanidhi in Chennai by the DMK. It also led the opposition to raise a hue and cry, with the BJP dubbing it a shameful example of VVIP arrogance. The doctors and paramedics were withdrawn.

Three years later, it was the RJD that was up in arms, accusing Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of creating a special Covid hospital at his official residence.

The state government had deployed six doctors and three paramedics from the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), along with a ventilator, at 1 Aney Marg, the chief minister’s official residence, to treat Nitish’s niece who has tested Covid positive.

The superintendent of PMCH, according to sources in the hospital, had issued the order on a verbal order from a senior official of the health department.

The decision caused a political row Tuesday. “A hospital is created for the CM along with doctors and ventilators. For the common man, there are no doctors or nurses. The only hospital for the common man is NMCH, which is waterlogged,” RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav said Tuesday. “When the CM fears that he has acquired Covid-19, the result of his test came within three hours. The common man has had to wait for days for test results.”

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Following the political furore, the facility was withdrawn Tuesday evening, with the PMCH superintendent issuing a fresh notification cancelling his earlier order.

The Bihar chief minister and his family had undergone the tests after he attended the oath-taking ceremony of the nine newly-elected MLCs on 1 July. Nitish was seated beside Awadhesh Narayan Singh, the acting chairman of Bihar Legislative Council.

Singh later telephoned the chief minister to inform him that he and his family members had tested Covid positive, and got himself admitted to AIIMS Patna on 5 July.

The Chief Minister’s Office has issued a statement that no one among the family and staff members, barring his niece, had tested positive.

Also read: On its 24th foundation day, Lalu Yadav’s RJD stares at bleak future under his son Tejashwi

Low testing and Covid-19 status in Bihar

The controversy erupted just ahead of elections in the state, in which Nitish’s handling of the pandemic is set to be a major issue.

Bihar has been witnessing a spike in Covid-19 cases. As of Tuesday evening, it has recorded a total of 12,426 positive cases, with Patna heading the districts with 1,000 cases. The number of deaths stand at 98.

In the last five days alone, however, around 2,500 new cases have been reported from across the state.

Even as there is a spurt in cases, the state has had poor testing rates.

On Tuesday, there were just 5,168 tests. The maximum number of tests conducted in the state in a day has not exceeded 6,800. In all, Bihar has conducted 2.6 lakh tests as of Tuesday evening.

To add to the woes, a couple of testing facilities such as the one in PMCH have stopped testing because its staff members have tested positive. Experts here believe increased testing could leave Bihar competing with Delhi and Maharashtra on Covid numbers.

The government appears to be aware of the situation spiralling out of control.

Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar Tuesday held a meeting during which he ordered district magistrates to use their discretion in closing down business establishments that violate Covid-19 safety guidelines. He said booking of hotels and community halls for weddings and other functions should be notified to the local police station, which should then ensure that not more than 50 people attend them.

The surge in Covid cases also has the opposition up in arms.

While RJD MP Manoj Jha has written to the Election Commission of India opposing the use of postal ballots for those over 65 years of age and Covid patients, party leader Tejashwi has questioned the very decision to hold elections in the middle of a pandemic.

“What is the hurry to hold elections?” Tejashwi asked Tuesday. “Does Nitish Kumar want to hold elections on a pile of human bodies or is he afraid that the President’s rule would be imposed after 20 November.”

Also read: Chirag Paswan, Nitish-Ram Vilas history, seats — why JD(U)-LJP rift is only growing


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