Despite eviction drives, pavement shops selling an array of essential items continue to be the lifeline for patients and attendants at Government Kasturba Maternity Hospital. R. Sujatha reports

Relatives of patients at the Government Kasturba Maternity Hospital in Triplicane fetch drinking water from footpath shops at the junction of Victoria Hostel Road and Pycrofts Road. At any time of the day, visitors can see attendants carrying empty water bottles out of the hospital and returning with filled water. Several attendants said they bought water from the two footpath shops set up on either side of Victoria Hostel Road where the hospital is located. The shops do brisk business for 12 hours, from 7 a.m.

Almost a year ago, these shops functioned from a spot closer to the hospital. However, on August 27 last year, they were removed after a furore over the death of a 12-day-old infant in the hospital. The infant was born in the hospital and the parents, who were residents of the nearby Ayodhya Kuppam and belonged to the fishing community, complained that the baby’s cheeks had been gnawed by a rat.

The infant’s family refused to take possession of the body. Following this incident, a few vendors, who sold baby clothes, mattresses, snacks and water outside the hospital gate, were also evicted.

“Around 12 months ago, we were evicted from outside the hospital,” recalled G. Kannan, a seller of fries and snacks. “For 20 years, I had my shop just outside the hospital. They said a rat had bitten the baby and we were blamed for it,” he said.

P. Malarvizhi is another vendor who was hit by the crackdown. “I used to sell 20 cans of water until a year ago. But now I manage to sell only eight or 10 cans,” she rued. Opposite Malarvizhi’s shop, another woman Tamilselvi also sells around 8 to 10 cans. Empty cans are stacked in the compound of the roadside temple on the street.

Nasser, a tailor from Royapettah whose wife was admitted to the hospital for childbirth, said, “There is water only in the toilets but we don’t have water for drinking purposes. All you have to do is bring an empty water bottle. It is much cheaper than buying water bottles which cost Rs. 15 to 20 for a litre.”

Hospital officials said that they had installed a tank in the garden for the benefit of patient’s attendants. “We have a heater in each ward and ensure water supply for the patients. But attendants regularly misuse the water we store for them for washing clothes and cleaning older children. We are helpless as entire families stay in the hospital till the patient gives birth,” an official said.

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