'Govt should say if Daya Bai's demands are unjust, else don't insult endosulfan victims'

Youth Congress activists during the sit-in protest held in front of Udma MLA CH Kunhambu's residence on Monday, October 17, 2017. Photo: Special Arrangement

Kasaragod: The Youth Congress took out a march to the house of Udma MLA C H Kunhambu protesting against his comment that endosulfan-affected families "cannot be satiated however much they get".

Around 40 Youth Congress workers, led by district president B P Pradeep Kumar, picketed in front of the gate of Kunhambu's house in Vidyanagar. "It is the corrupt MLA whose greed cannot be satiated, not the endosulfan victims who have to frequently go to hospitals for treatment," said Pradeep Kumar.

The protesters, who were holding placards accusing Kunhambu of taking bribes, were forcibly removed by the police and 11 of them were charged with blocking the road. 

Social activist Daya Bai (82) is on an indefinite hunger strike in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram demanding better health infrastructure in Kasaragod and insisting on including Kasaragod as a possible site to set up the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). 

The district does not have a tertiary healthcare facility. A medical college in Badiadka panchayat's Ukkinadka is in the making for the past nine years. Around 10 doctors provide out-patient consultations from the administrative block, without diagnosing equipment.

"Patients are often referred to the medical college in Kannur, 100km away, or to the District Hospital in Kanhangad, 50km away," said Pradeep Kumar. The MLA should be more sensitive to the suffering of the people, he said. 

To be sure, the government recently gave Rs 5 lakh each as monetary relief to almost all the endosulfan victims after the Supreme Court repeatedly set ultimatums. 

Youth Congress activists carrying out a protest against Udma MLA CH Kunhambu, who remarked that the greed of endosulfan victims can never be satiated. Photo: Special Arrangement

The National Human Rights Commission first recommended the payout in 2011; and in 2017, on a petition filed by the DYFI, the CPM's youth organisation, the Supreme Court directed the state government to pay Rs 5 lakh each to all the endosulfan victims in the district in three months.

It took the government more than five years and two contempt of court petitions and an ultimatum from the Supreme Court to implement the order.

The same 2017 judgment also asked the government to consider providing "medical facilities/ treatment for life-long health issues, arising out of the effects of endosulfan, keeping in mind that, there seems to be a large number of such affected persons".

When the Supreme Court took up the matter of treatment facilities in Kasaragod, the state government in July dished out a half-truth in its affidavit that two government medical colleges were providing tertiary healthcare to the people of Kasargod.

One, Kannur Government Medical College in Pariyaram, "which is situated 22km from Kasaragod district border"; and two, Government Medical College, Kasaragod. "OP services for the public started on 03/01/2021. All specialty OPD and super specialty OPD including neurology and nephrology are available there. Special consideration is being given to the treatment of endosulfan victims," the government said in its affidavit.

First, Pariyaram medical college in Kannur is more than 100km from many endosulfan-affected areas in Kasaragod district. It is 27km only from the southern tip of Kasaragod district.

Second, the Kasaragod medical college is a glorified primary health centre with no in-patient facility or diagnosing equipment. As of now, Kasaragod does not have a tertiary healthcare facility, perhaps the only district in Kerala.

Around 20 people died in Kasaragod during the Covid lockdown when Karnataka blocked the highways and denied patients from Kasaragod access to hospitals in Mangaluru. "Those who died then were not endosulfan victims. Daya Bai is on a hunger strike for everybody in Kasaragod," said Munisa Ambalathara, an endosulfan victim and president of Endosulfan Peeditha Janakeeya Munnani.

Daya Bai is also protesting to pressure the government to conduct special medical camps to identify endosulfan victims. Writer Ambikasutan Mangad said the government has not conducted special medical camps to identify endosulfan victims since 2017. At least two children with ailments possibly triggered by endosulfan died recently, he said. "The government should conduct such camps every year," he said.

But the government reacts only when there is a protest.

The placards held by Youth Congress activists during the protest. The slogans written on it in Malayalam call for MLA CH Kunhambu's resignation and term him a corrupt and greedy politician. Photo: Special Arrangement

The lack of daycare centres in the district has forced many single parents to lock up their children with intellectual disabilities while going to work, said Munisa. Some single mothers take their children to their workplaces. "But they are hyperactive kids needing special attention. These children create havoc and the mothers end up cutting a sorry figure. They often lose their jobs," she said.

In May, Vimala Kumari (58), a government school cook, allegedly killed her daughter and ended her life, on the eve of the reopening of the school. "She did not have a place to put up her daughter while she was at work," said Munisa.

Daycare centres in endosulfan-affected panchayats are one of the demands of Daya Bai. Ambikasutan said the government should say if her demands are unjust. "If not, the endosulfan victims should not be insulted. Here, the government is the culprit. It is because of its action of spraying endosulfan for 20 years that these children are suffering," he said.

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