Panjhari Devi, 70, weak and giddy for 10 days, walked slowly to the additional health sub-centre at Gandaman village. As she settled on a stool, auxiliary nurse midwife Phulwanti Kumari, who along with fellow ANM Shanti Kumari has been virtually playing a doctor’s role, asked what was troubling her and made the entries in the register —name, village, ailment, medicine given. It was a folic acid tonic.
The other ANM was at the block town of Masrakh. The designated doctor for the sub-centre, Dr Manishanker Choudhary, who needs to visit the centre every Thursday, has not come for a month now. The register shows the last visit on July 16, anniversary of the midday meal tragedy that killed 23 children of the village primary school.
Nine of Panjhari Devi’s grandchildren had fallen ill after the meal and her favourite, granddaughter Mamata, 11, whom she would call rasgolla because of her chubby cheeks, had died. “How can I forget the day, beta? She was the darling of the house,” said Panjhari Devi, whose son Surendra Rai, Mamata’s father, has now become an activist protesting any lapse at the school.
Until noon on Monday, four patients had visited the health sub-centre, which villagers call a centre of chaar dawai for all ailments. Among them was a member of another bereaved family. Lakshmi Sah, 11, had lost her brother Krishna, 5.
Lakshmi had a cough. Her parents, Panjhari and Raju Sah, know the sub-centre along with a high school, an anganwadi centre, a primary school and an upcoming overhead water tank is part of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s announcement making Gandaman a “model village”. Villagers call it the “price of 23 deaths”.
The sub-centre, which is controlled by the Masrakh block administration, was opened on the anniversary of the tragedy.
“These facilities would make a difference only if they were functional,” said Satendra Ram, who lost his son. “We have a school without a midday meal and a health centre without a doctor. Worse, our chief minister did not bother to share our sense of grief.”
Surendra Rai, who lost his daughter, said: “There will be no votes on caste lines this year. We have been betrayed by Nitish and Lalu Prasad. When Lalu visited our children in hospital, he sought to play the caste card.” The village has a mix of OBC Yadavs and EBCs and votes for Baniapur constituency.
At the sub-centre, ANM Phulwanti Kumari insisted Dr Choudhary used to visit every week until July 16 this year, She showed the register. “That’s the doctor’s handwriting; see his entries on patients’ names,” she said. “But yes, villagers complain about his absence for about two months.”
Contacted by The Indian Express, Dr Choudhary said, “I had a hairline fracture in the first week of August. I will resume my duties in Gandaman this Thursday.” He said he did not know why no alternative arrangement has been made in his absence.
Phulwanti said they had attended to 1,516 patients since the HSC opened. She showed her stock — a few strips of paracetamol, antibiotics, antacid, some iron syrup, ointment for cuts, an ear-and-eye drop. She said they also counsel pregnant women.
Prabhunath Singh, 60, arrived from neighbouring Ibrahimpur. “I have a backache. At least I got free medicine after walking just one kilometre,” says Singh, a farmer.
Villagers said though Masrakh block officials had assured they would send a doctor twice a week, the doctor did not visit even once a week. Raju Sah said: “I don’t even know the name of the designated doctor. Only the ANM is seen here. What makes this village a model?”