Fourteen-year-old Muskan Khatoon studies in Class IX at Rani Jhansi Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Tughlakabad — the school where over 400 children fell ill following a gas leak in the vicinity on May 6. Following the incident, Muskan was kept in the ICU of Majeedia Hospital for six days, a little longer than many of her friends.
Though she was discharged after doctors termed her condition “fine”, the “otherwise healthy child” has been falling ill constantly ever since. Her mother Ruby Khatoon, who lives in Nardan Basti in south Delhi, says that since the gas leak, her daughter has been having trouble breathing and has complained of a burning sensation in her stomach as well.
On May 6, chloromethyl pyridine, a chemical used in fertilizers, insecticides and certain drugs — had leaked from a depot container near the school. Soon after the incident, the Union Health Ministry — under the orders of the National Green Tribunal — had constituted an expert team comprising doctors from AIIMS to study the impact of the leak. The AIIMS expert panel had, in their report, said the “Tughlakabad container was a ticking bomb”.
This week too, Ruby got a call from the school that Muskan was unwell. Since the gas leak, Muskan has been taken to the hospital thrice with complaints of burning sensation in the eye and breathing problems, among others. “On July 1, I took her to ESIC Hospital at Okhla and they administered her oxygen and prescribed some medicines. But I was asked to leave because I did not have an ESI card. I couldn’t buy the medicine too since I don’t have money,” said Ruby, who sells bangles to support her four children.
Spreading out the hospital bills in front of her, Ruby said that when Muskan was in the hospital for the first time, immediately after the gas leak, the government had paid for her stay in the hospital. However, the medical bills, post discharge, had to be cleared by them. Since the incident, Ruby has spent around Rs 4,000 on Muskan’s medicines.
However, the vice-principal of the school, Manisha Vaish, said Muskan is asthmatic and her falling sick has nothing to do with the gas leak. Ruby, however, says she has never had to take her daughter to a doctor for respiratory trouble before the incident. But it is not only Muskan.
Father of another child, Shalu, who lives in Lakkadpur, said,“Since that incident, my daughter remains quiet and gets scared when she is in a crowd. She complains of trouble while eating. This time, I have not been able to take her to the hospital. When the gas leak happened, we only had to pay for the medicines that were given at the time of discharge”.
Officials from Matri Sudha, the NGO, which works in the area, said the Delhi government has not reviewed the status of the children after the incident. “There can be post incident trauma as well, as these are all young children. The government should have done something about it,” said Arvind Singh from Matri Sudha.
The Delhi government, meanwhile, did not respond to the queries of The Indian Express, despite repeated attempts.