Relief is on its way for physically and financially distressed Patna's 17-year-old conjoined twins, Saba and Farah.
The Supreme Court has directed the state government to pay Rs. 5,000 per month to their family for their upkeep and arrange for regular medical check up of the girls by a civil surgeon and bear the cost of their treatment.
The court relief was the outcome of an initiative by the HT, which was the first newspaper to highlight the tragic plight of the conjoined twins, about a year ago.
The twins, conjoined at head, are two among the seven children of a poor tea stall owner, Mohammad Shakeel Ahmad, of Samanpura in western Patna.
With the two girls confined to their bed most of the time and suffering from acute pain and sleeplessness, Ahmad had been finding it increasingly difficult to pay their bills.
After the HT report brought their plight in the public domain, a public interest litigation (PIL), seeking financial support for the maintenance of the twins and to provide them medical facilities was filed by Arushi Dhamsana, a law student at the Pune-based Symbiosis law school.
"Hame bahut achha lag rah hai. Sarkaar (Supreme court) ne bahut de diya. But things would have been better if they had promised Rs. 5,000 to each of us," Saba said, when informed about the Court's decision.
Farah, the other twin, also expressed her joy, "Chalo yeh bhi accha hai. Something is better than nothing", she chipped in.
Tamanna, the only brother of Saba and Farah, said, "This is a much-awaited relief for Saba and Farah and for our entire family. We are happy the Supreme court has come up with this decision. Now, the girls may get better food and regular medical treatment".
He continued, "My sisters need nutritious diet and regular treatment. Given their physical condition, even their general treatment requires Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 10,000 at a time. Thankfully the government has been asked to arrange and pay for the treatment."
The boy, who could not continue his studies after intermediate because of the poor financial condition of the family, said the state government had arranged for medical support earlier also.
"A doctor came here twice and provided medicines. Later, it was stopped. Three days ago when I contacted him (the doctor) for medicines, I was informed the facility had been discontinued," Tamanna said.
He said Bollywood actor Salman Khan had promised to provide all possible help for treatment of the twins, nothing happened. "I failed to contact him as the number I was provided was not correct", he explained.
Even a proposal made by a person from a Gulf country, turned out to be a mere publicity stunt. "Kucch nahin hua. Ab to baten purani ho gai," Tamanna told HT.
Mohammad Shakeel Ahmad, father of the girls said, "We are satisfied with the promise of the government providing for regular medical treatment of the twins.
"We do not want the girls to be separated surgically as this entails a great risk to their lives. One or both of the two girls may die during operation. We do not want to lose any of the two girls", Ahmad said.
Rabia Khatoon, mother of Saba and Farah, who, last year, had urged the President of India and the courts to allow her ailing daughters to die if there was no treatment available to mitigate their pain, was happy, too.
"I hope my daughters' day to day sufferings will come to an end with proper treatment", Khatoon said.
Tamanna said while Farah had two kidneys, Saba had none. "As we could not afford their treatment, we tried to procure permanent disability certificate for my sisters which could have made their treatment more affordable.
"But those manning the civil surgeon's office rejected my application many times. I was told the girls did not fulfil the eligibility criteria. The state government awoke to the girls' plight when the Supreme Court directed the centre to constitute a special medical team for their treatment at the All India institute of medical sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi.
Even a three-member team comprising AIIMS pediatricians, Minoo Bajpai and AK Bisoi, and Mukul Verma of the Apollo hospital, was constituted.
Tamanna said the girls were taken to Delhi for treatment. An expert from the US, Dr Benjamin Carson, examined them and said that they could be separated physically.
"But it needed five to six surgeries over a period of nine months and involved the risk of one girl losing her life. So we declined the offer of surgery," Tamanna said.
It was then that their mother wrote to the Supreme Court with the request that medical facilities at government's expense be arranged for the girls in Patna or to permit their 'mercy killing'.