Ramavtar Suryavanshi, a villager in Chhattisgarh's Bilaspur district, didn't have a clue his wife had signed up for a state-run sterilisation drive that offered her Rs 1,000 as an incentive. He only got to know after she fell ill and died following the botched surgery at an abandoned hospital that left 13 women dead.
"My wife didn't inform me that she was undergoing an operation," said 42-year-old Suryavanshi, whose wife vomited for hours before she died. "She was taken to the hospital by a health worker who told her she would get money," added the father of five children.
Suryavanshi's wife was one of several women who rural health workers, or mitanins, lured to sterilisation camps by offering a reward as part of a wider racket the government's incentive-driven programme had spawned over the years. The health workers are also paid Rs 1,000 for each woman they bring to the camps.
"The tragedy doesn't speak much of the racket but about the unsafe, unhygienic and slipshod attitude under which these operations were conducted," said Sulakshana Nandi of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
The state government on Thursday ordered a judicial inquiry as the doctor, RK Gupta, who carried out the sterilisation of 83 women in just five hours, was sacked and sent to judicial custody.
Gupta, who says he has conducted more than 50,000 female sterilisations, faces charges of causing death by negligence. "The health of the women deteriorated owing to the sub-standard drugs prescribed to them following the sterilisation surgery."
A seven-member team of AIIMS doctors said drug reaction was a possible cause of the deaths. Drug regulators on Thursday sealed a unit of an antibiotic manufacturing company whose product was used at the camps in Bilaspur. Officials said burnt medicines were found on the premises.
"Lack of informed choice to the women and her family, the pressure of increasing the numbers and the monetary factor lead to a large turnout," said SK Anum, former state president of the Indian Medical Association.
Parvati Bai, 25, said she didn't know about the conditions of the surgery: "Two women were simultaneously operated upon on beds next to each other."
Local health workers said they were helping rein in the billion-plus population. "What's wrong if we are committed to our goal?" Saraswati Kaushik, a mitanin.
Nadda counters charge
Meanwhile, Union health minister JP Nadda refuted allegations that family planning was a target-driven programme.
"It is a misconception. There are no targets set by the central government," he said.