SILIGURI/KOLKATA: Under attack over her government's failure to combat the spread of encephalitis in northern West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Friday suspended three senior officials blaming them for keeping the higher-ups in the dark about the menace.
The opposition parties cried foul, ridiculing the chief minister - who also holds the health portfolio - for not being in the know about the disaster, even as three more people died of the disease since Thursday night, taking the toll to 113.
Suspension notices were slapped on Darjeeling Chief Medical Officer (Health) Subir Bhowmik, his Jalpaiguri counterpart Jagannath Sarkar and North Bengal Medical College and Hospital superintendent Amarendranath Sarkar, Minister of State for Health Chandrima Bhattacharya told IANS.
In Kolkata, Banerjee lashed out against the officials.
"Those in charge of health affairs in north Bengal did not keep the government higher ups posted about the spread of the disease. It is not possible for me, or my minister of state Chandrima (Bhattacharya) to keep track of all matters.
"It has been wrong on their part to conceal facts. We have suspended the CMOH of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. We will seek explanation from them why we were not informed about the spread of the disease. We are appointing new officials to fill up the slots," the chief minister said.
She said Bhattacharya and director, medical education, Sushanta Banerjee would leave for north Bengal Saturday to take stock of the situation.
Alleging that some pig farms in the rural areas were flouting norms, the chief minister said it was a factor in the spread of the disease.
"We are taking action. We have launched a drive to close down unhygienic piggeries. In cases where poor people earn their living from them, the government will buy them," she said.
The chief minister claimed that her government has "acted fast" after receiving reports of the deaths. "We are doing our best despite shortage of staff."
Meanwhile, three more deaths were reported from the NBMCH since Thursday night. Two of the victims had Japanese encephalitis, while another was a confirmed case of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome.
The victims included a child, a senior health official said.
State's director of health services Biswaranjan Satpathi put the number of deaths at 113 since January.
The Left Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party went hammer and tong against the chief minister, saying the suspended officials were not the least responsible for the crisis.
Leader of Opposition in the assembly Surjya Kanta Mishra and BJP state president Rahul Sinha wondered how the chief minister "managed to remain ignorant" about the encephalitis deaths when the media had been highlighting it for days and she had herself been in north Bengal on an official tour.
"The union health minister got information and dispatched medical teams. But the chief minister claims that she was not informed," Mishra said.
Sinha said action has been initiated against the three officials "to suppress truth".
Encephalitis is a disease that results in inflammation of the brain, affecting the patient's central nervous system. It can be caused due to bacterial or viral infections of the brain, injection of toxic substances or increased complications of an infectious disease.
While the lesser symptoms include headaches and fevers, the more severe ones cause the onset of mental issues like seizures, confusion, disorientation, tremors and hallucinations.
JES is caused by a mosquito-borne virus. While human beings are the dead-end hosts of the virus, pigs acts as amplifying hosts that aid in spread of the disease.