Patna: The king of fruits came in the eye of a storm in Bihar on Wednesday when a fancy variety of mango and its saplings were gifted to members of the bicameral legislature by the state government.
The goodwill gesture, however, did not go down well with the Opposition, which accused the Nitish Kumar government of trying to divert the attention of the members of the legislature from its failure to check the outbreak and spread of the acute encephalitis syndrome (AES).
The Digha Maldah mangoes and its saplings were handed over to each member when a debate on the agriculture budget was underway in the assembly.
Explaining the spirit behind the move, Agriculture Minister Prem Kumar told reporters: “The Digha Malda variety mangoes — a speciality of our state — and its saplings are being distributed to encourage its plantation”.
Many legislators of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress combine refused to accept the gift and alleged those who accepted it would be “cursed” by the families of more than 150 children who lost their lives to AES last month.
“This Bihar government is insensitive. It watched callously when more than 100 children died,” RJD legislator Bhai Virendra said. “It is still not doing the needful for those children who survived the disease but are suffering from extreme debility.”
“I refuse to accept this present from the government that aims to shut the mouths of MLAs on this vital issue,” Virendra said.
Bihar has been struggling with an AES outbreak since the beginning of June. More than 150 children have died of the disease so far.
The former chief minister of Bihar Rabri Devi, who is also the leader of the Opposition in the legislative council, said: “The mangoes being distributed by the government carry the curse of the families who have lost their children to brain fever. Anybody who accepts this gift will be, similarly, cursed.”
Congress MLC Prem Chandra Mishra echoed similar sentiments. “Anybody who consumes these mangoes that are being distributed to distract the members of the legislature from important issues will suffer from indigestion”.
Asked why the fruits were not sent to the families of dead or afflicted children, the agriculture minister replied indignantly: “We will do that. Fruits will be sent to the affected families as also the saplings. The media can verify this at a later stage.”