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Minister calms ‘death’ uproar

Lucknow, Jan. 12: An Uttar Pradesh minister today said he was “sad” children were dying in riot camps despite the government’s best efforts, as he sought to calm tempers after his ill-timed attempt at philosophy kicked off a storm.

“I did not say anything insensitive. I was feeling sad that people in the camps were dying despite all the facilities provided by the government,” Narad Rai, the sports minister in the Akhilesh Yadav cabinet, told reporters.

Asked about children dying in relief camps in riot-ravaged Muzaffarnagar, Rai had yesterday told television channels death was “inescapable”.

“Deaths of children, adults and the elderly are inescapable. It isn’t true that only those who live in camps face death. People die in palaces too. It isn’t that children in our homes don’t die. Deaths occur everywhere,” Rai had said.

The minister’s statement came weeks after a senior bureaucrat had asserted that people don’t die of cold.

The comments, at a time the Samajwadi Party-led government has accepted that 34 children have died in the relief camps, triggered protests across the state amid claims by activists that winter had worsened the conditions at these shelters.

Rai’s statement also came at a time the state is in the glare for hosting the Saifai festival, a jamboree that saw Bollywood stars perform, allegedly neglecting the riot victims.

Congress MP Jagadambika Pal said: “It appears the government is not able to stop its ministers from playing political football over the tragedy (of child deaths).”

Expelled Samajwadi leader Kamal Farooqi said similar comments had come from the top brass of the party, headed by Akhilesh’s father Mulayam Singh Yadav. “Instead of showing sympathy, they are making irresponsible comments,” he said.

BJP state president Laxmikant Bajpai said Rai’s “insensitive” comment betrayed a complete lack of understanding of the conditions at the relief camps.

Realising that his statement yesterday could backfire in an election year, Rai today sought to focus on the government’s efforts, saying it had done everything it could, from ensuring “food, lodging and medical treatment” for the victims.