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3 die of diarrhoea at Pingla Ashram
20 other mentally challenged afflicted
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Sanaur (Patiala), July 9
Three years ago they used to chain the mentally challenged. Now they let them roam free. But in tattered clothes, in unhygienic conditions and without any medical facilities. This is what the privately-run All-India Pingla Ashram offers to 152 mentally challenged inmates. Three inmates have died in the past few days with one of them dying yesterday due to diarrhoea. As many as 20 other inmates have been afflicted by diarrhoea with six of them being admitted to Government Rajindra Hospital today.

The orphanage, about 4 km from the city, does not seem to have a good track record. It has a death toll of at least one person a month.

The orphanage seems to be violating the Indian Mental Act instituted for the mentally disabled. The Act clearly lays down facilities which all orphanages or societies looking after the mentally challenged must have on their premises. The Pingla Ashram does not even have the minimum facilities needed by any human being to live with dignity.

There are only five to six rooms in the orphanage in which all inmates, including 72 women, live. While some rooms have hospital beds, others have wooden cots. Most of the beds have a blanket on top of them which serves as a bedding even during summer. The inmates move around in tattered clothes, with some of the women not even having anything to cover the lower half of their body. Food is served to the inmates in their rooms mostly on the ground and they have it in unhygienic conditions.

The orphanage does not have any resident doctor or nurse despite the fact that it is catering to the mentally challenged. It does not also have a dispensary on its premises. Though the foundation stone of a dispensary and other medical facilities was laid down years back, it could not be constructed due to paucity of funds, says its head Baba Balbir Singh while talking to The Tribune. He said he had an understanding with a private hospital in Sanaur whose staff looked after the needs of the inmates and that serious cases were referred to Government Rajindra Hospital in Patiala.

Baba Balbir Singh said the ashram was runs from donations given by philanthropists. When questioned about the mode of donations, he said besides those given at the spot, he had kept 100 employees to collect donations from nearby villages and cities on trucks and jeeps. He said he had kept 25 employees to look after the inmates in the institution. “I am supporting all 120 families, besides looking after the mentally challenged and destitute”, he added.

The Civil Surgeon, Capt (Dr) Hardev Singh, said a “referred response” team had been visiting the orphanage since the past two days when it reported mass diarrhoea cases. He said efforts would be made to identify the cause of the spread of infection in the orphanage and that water samples had been taken from ashram’s premises. He said it was also felt that the orphanage management was not providing them hygienic food.
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