PATNA: The slow but sure death faced by the residents of Khairi, a village located in Haveli Kharagpur of Munger district, reflects complete government apathy to the public health in the state.

A report reaching the state headquarters here suggests that 80 per cent of the villagers suffer from fluorosis. Health minister Shakuni Choudhary expressed his complete ignorance over the problem in the village. “However,I will ask the civil surgeon to look into the matter,” he stated while speaking to The Times of India on Tuesday.

Incidentally, Choudhary’s native village is in Munger district, and Haveli Kharagpur is represented in the state assembly by powerful RJD leader and former minister Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav. Haveli Kharagpur was in the news recently due to 40 deaths within three weeks on account of cerebral malaria.

The first case of fluorosis was reported in 1975 after the first tubewell was installed in the village having a population of about 2,500. “Before the installation of the tubewell, our drinking water source used to be a well,” recalls Arvind Sah, a resident of the village. Cases of villagers suffering from backache and weakening of limbs have been reported to the district administration repeatedly, but for the last 25 years there has been no effort on the part of the government to give medical relief to the villagers or to provide them with an alternative source of drinking water.

Fluorosis, which results from the intake of excess fluoride and causes thickening of bones and destruction of nerves, has struck the village in a major way as almost every family appears to have been afflicted with the disease in varying degrees. The symptoms start with a hip pain which spreads to other parts.

“In the 1990s, a few of the affected poor villagers had to sell off their land to go to the AIIMS in Delhi for treatment. It was from the persons returning from Delhi that we learnt that we are suffering from fluorosis,” stated Harikishore Yadav, a resident of the village, who started having pain in the hip last year. The entire village depends on agriculture, but most of the villagers have been rendered incapable of working in the fields.

Brahmadev Sahu, 45, is lying in his deathbed. He spent all his wealth on treatment at the AIIMS in 1999, where he underwent an unsuccessful operation to give him relief. Despite being warned by the AIIMS doctors not to drink the water of the village tubewell, he and his family do not have any way out. As he silently waits for his death, his main worry is that his wife Meera Devi also suffers from the same disease and walks around their small hut in great pain. Their son Bumbum Kumar, 16, suffers the same plight though in a lesser degree.

“This is the plight of most of the families here,” remarked Haridev Yadav while stressing that they are losing their family members at a relatively young age. According to media reports, apart the children getting their feet twisted by the disease, there are 20 critically ill persons in the village. The civil surgeon’s report to the health minister may be too late to save them.