Haroon Reshi

In clash of ego between SKIMS doctors and Wildlife officials, victims of human-animal conflicts suffer for want of treatment!  

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Money is available, but who gets to decide treatment, and its cost…?

Srinagar: Even as the incidents of human-animal conflict regularly make it to the news space, not much is said, written or heard about the plight of the victims after their initial emergency treatment at the hospitals.

And the unfortunate reality is that most of these victims, who require a specialized treatment, including reconstructive plastic surgeries, have to run from proverbial pillar to post at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) for their treatment, which is funded by the Wildlife Protection Department of J&K.

Ironically, most of these victims belong to poor families, and far-flung areas of the Valley; and they are denied immediate treatment despite the fact that the Wildlife department has already deposited funds for their specialized treatment at this leading tertiary-care hospital.

Take the example of Abdul Ahad Dar, a resident of the Lachampora area of north Kashmir’s Handwara. The 40-year-old man was gravely wounded with loss of his left eye in a bear attack on August 28, 2019. Since then, Dar has undergone three surgeries; and yet he needs an ocular prosthesis —implantation of an artificial eye — which costs him nearly Rs 80,000.

“So far we have spent more than four lakh rupees for his treatment. He had got grave wounds on his legs and arms. He had to go through a series of surgeries, and still, he needs one more. Now, we are unable to bear the expenses from our own pocket,” Abid Hussain, the elder son of Dar told ‘Kashmir Images’.

The Wildlife department has issued a letter to the Director SKIMS, on December 27, 2019, requesting him to grant funds for Dar’s treatment from the amount which the department has deposited in the SKIMS’ official account.

A letter, in favor of Dar, from the Wildlife Warden, North Kashmir division reads, “… the patient needs specialized treatment and intends to go under reconstruction surgery. It is pertinent to mention that the department of Wildlife Protection J&K has already deposited the amount in your account. It is requested that the specialized treatment/plastic surgery be conducted as the victim is the case of injury rendered by a wild animal.”

“We visited the hospital (SKIMS) several times and requested the officials there for issuing funds for further treatment of my father. But all our efforts went in vain. We have been asked to wait. They promised us that they will contact us on the phone once the funds are released. We have been waiting for that phone call,” Abid, who is a college student, added.

An official communication (copy obtained by ‘Kashmir Images’) confirms that the Department of Wildlife has deposited an amount of Rs 154 lakh into the official account of the SKIMS “for reconstruction surgeries of victims of human-wildlife conflicts” on November 12, 2020.

In this regard, a letter from Chief Wildlife Warden J&K on Nov 18, 2020, informs the Director SKIMS about the deposited amount.

The letter reads: “… it is, as such requested that the cases of reconstruction surgeries of the victims may please be taken up as earliest so the funds provided for the purpose are utilized and concerned quarters are apprised accordingly.”

Rashid Yahya Naqash, Regional Wildlife Warden, Kashmir, confirms that his department has paid advance money to the SKIMS for the treatment of the people who are injured by the wild animals.

“We have provided Rs 1.54 crore to the SKIMS under the compensation scheme from the central government. However, we are yet to receive any official communication from the hospital authorities confirming whether this amount has been spent or not,” Naqash told ‘Kashmir Images’.

Sources at SKIMS say that the ‘ego clash’ between some administrative officials have created a roadblock in the specialized treatment and plastic surgeries of these victims.

They say “so far, not a penny has been spent from the amount given by the Wildlife department, and on the other hand, the poor victims are running around seeking and virtually begging for the expenses for their surgeries.”

“During the past year, two high-level meetings were called at SKIMS to sort out the problem. But nothing has changed, because a concerned official refuses to accept the recommendation letters from the Wildlife department,” a source told ‘Kashmir Images’.

When contacted, Dr. Adil Hafeez Wani, Head Department of Plastic Surgery, SKIMS told ‘Kashmir Images’ that the “flawed mechanism in place is causing problems in this matter”.

He explained: “Earlier, our department would confirm and certify the patient who needed the specialized treatment and surgery; and we also used to give him or her cost estimation certificate as well to claim the amount from the Wildlife department.  However, now the system has been changed to bad. Now patients come to us with recommendation letters from the Wildlife department requesting their surgeries. Looking at these recommendatory letters, I wonder how does a Wildlife official ascertain whether the patient needs surgery or not.”

Dr. Wani added, “This is our job to decide what kind of treatment a victim of man-animal conflict needs. We are supposed to tell the Wildlife department how much amount a patient needs for his or her treatment.”

Clearly, whether it is a matter of flawed mechanism or official hostility, the fact is that victims of human-animal conflict are subjected to undue suffering and delay in treatment.

“I am aware of the matter, and I will soon call for a meeting to clear the roadblocks,” Dr. Farooq Ahmad Jan, Medical Superintendent, SKIMS told ‘Kashmir Images’.

Pertinently, the human-animal conflicts have been there for a long, particularly in the areas adjoining forests in the countryside. Of late the incidence of such conflicts has increased with more and more people falling victims to the attacks by the wild animals — usually the bears and leopards.

According to official data, as many as 118 people were killed and 1877 wounded in attacks by wild animals in the Valley during the past 10 years (from 2011). In the year 2020, as many as 10 deaths and 141 injuries by the wild animals were reported in Kashmir.

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