101 sterilisations within 8 hrs: Chhattisgarh orders probe
One doctor, eight hours from late evening to well into the night, 101 sterilisation procedures on poor tribal women.
The Chhattisgarh health department has served notices to two doctors, one of whom allegedly conducted over a hundred tubectomy surgeries in a matter of eight hours in the Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, in violation of government norms. The mass sterilisation reportedly took place at the Narmadapur community health centre between 7 pm and 3 am on August 26.
Two days later, the district Chief Medical and Health Officer(CMHO) of the district, Poonam Singh Sisodia sent a show-cause notice to Dr Jibnus Ekta who allegedly conducted the surgeries, and Dr RS Singh, the block medical officer of Mainpat district, who was present.
“We have issued a show-cause notice to two doctors, including the surgeon, and are waiting for their formal reply. Due to a one-day strike called by nurses under the banner of the Chhattisgarh Adhikari Karamachari Federation, protesting an increase in dearness allowance, the reply is taking a little longer. If they are found guilty, strict action will be taken,” the CMHO said.
On Friday, the health secretary of the state took cognisance of the matter and ordered an enquiry. “ It is a fact there were 101 sterilisation operations that were carried out by one surgeon who is currently posted in Surguja. Fortunately, all women are healthy and sound but because the number of sterilization operations has crossed the stipulated guidelines, I am ordering an inquiry into the matter,” said Alok Shukla, health secretary, Chhattisgarh said.
Under the central government’s guidelines for the National Family Welfare Programme, a doctor can conduct a maximum of 30 sterilisations in a day.
Health department officials said that the women, mostly tribals, were from the Mainpat block of the district. Ram Kumar Ravi, who was with his wife when she was operated on in the camp said, “I did not count the women who were at the camp ... My wife is healthy and has no issues after the sterilization operation till now.” His wife told HT she was operated on at around 10 pm in the night. None of the sterilisations was forced.
The state health secretary said that the surgeon had indeed sent him a written response. When asked to explain how so many surgeries had been conducted in such a short span, Dr Ekta, the minister said, explained that he had been asked to do so by the villagers themselves. “He claimed he was pressurised by the villagers who told him that they had travelled long distances and it would be difficult for them to come again. This, however, doesn’t mean that the surgeon should flout government guidelines and therefore an inquiry has been ordered into the case,” Shukla said.
Asked why the surgeries were done in the middle of the night, Shukla said that the surgeon has denied this thus far, and claimed that the surgeries took place between 12 noon and 6:30 pm in the evening. Despite repeated attempts, both Dr Ekta and Dr RS Singh were not available for comment.
District officials said that there have been a total of 30 camps held in Surguja this year, the home district of health minister TS Singh Deo, which have together seen 821 sterilisations.
The incident is a hark back to a botched sterilization camp at Sakri in Bilaspur in 2013, when 13 women died, in a case that caused a national furore. At the time, Dr RK Gupta, the Block Medical Officer of Sakri conducted 83 surgeries in six hours in an unused and unsanitary health centre and was arrested a year later, after going on the run. Gupta alleged pressure to meet targets and suggested that substandard medicines were behind the deaths.
Health activists believe that Chhattisgarh has not learnt from previous tragedies and the same violations are occurring again. “What has happened in Narmadapur is a clear violation of both government and court orders on quality standards to be maintained during female and male sterilisation. The Supreme Court banned such sterilisation camps in 2016,” said Dr Sulakshana Nandi, joint national convener, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
The Supreme Court judgment, dated September 14, 2016, and issued by a bench led by Justice Madan Lokur called sterilisation camps “perverse products of the Centre’s population control campaigns driven by informal targets and incentives”.
The Chhattisgarh health secretary said that government regulations state that ₹1,800 is transferred to the account of women who undergo sterilisation surgery, under the National Family Welfare Programme.
Nandi further said that the Chhattisgarh government must take strict action against the officials and doctors who took the decision to go ahead with such a camp, and against the District Quality Assurance Committee (DQAC) members whose responsibility it is to monitor and ensure the guidelines are followed.
“There is always a demand for family planning in rural Chhattisgarh but due to COVID, the demand has increased. In last one-and-a-half years, women could not reach health centres for sterilisation surgeries and now want the surgery done due to family pressure or other reasons. The government must chalk out a plan for accumulated sterilization surgeries in rural areas,” said Dr Nandi.