As many as 64 children have died over six days at a government hospital in Uttar Pradesh that suffered oxygen shortages, officials said Saturday.
Authorities have launched an inquiry into the causes of the oxygen disruption but denied reports that it had caused the deaths at the Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.
The media said 30 children died on Thursday and Friday because of the lack of oxygen on wards. Suppliers’ bills had allegedly not been paid.
“Sixty patients have died at the hospital in the last five days but we don’t think it’s linked to reports of oxygen shortage,” Anil Kumar, Gorakhpur’s divisional commissioner said.
State health minister Sidharth Nath Singh announced later that four more deaths had been reported on Saturday, taking the toll to 64 over the six days starting Monday.
Singh denied that any of the deaths were linked to the oxygen shortage.
Twenty-three children died on Thursday, when, according to a statement shared by the office of state chief minister, “the pressure of the liquid oxygen supply became low and 52 reserve oxygen cylinders were pressed into service”.
The office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that Modi was “monitoring the situation in Gorakhpur” and was in touch with state authorities. Modi’s conservative nationalist party controls the state. The ‘Hindustan Times’ newspaper on Saturday described chaotic scenes at the hospital as oxygen supply was disrupted.
“Even as 90 jumbo oxygen cylinders were pressed into service to maintain the supply on Friday, the hospital ran out of oxygen around 1am,” it said.
“All hell broke loose,” the report added.
“What followed was complete chaos as panic-stricken relatives of patients ran for help, and with the support of hospital staff tried to maintain supply of oxygen… using artificial manual breathing bags. “However several patients started collapsing due to inadequate supply,” it added. One uncle of an 11-year-old girl, Vandana, who died at the hospital, echoed local media reports about the chaos.
Under all-round attack, the Uttar Pradesh government suspended the head of the hospital over the deaths of children, even as Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the health minister blamed it on lack of cleanliness and diseases and not due to lack of oxygen.
The federal government has sent Minister of State for Health Anupriya Patel and Health Secretary CK Mishra to Gorakhpur and look into the lapses in the BRD Medical College.
Principal of the Baba Raghav Das Medical College RK Mishra was suspended for alleged negligence and callousness. Mishra later said he had already given his resignation, owing moral responsibility for the tragedy. Mishra has been asked to stay put as a committee had been formed to fix responsibility.
Announcing the suspension of Mishra, the health minister asked the media not to jump to conclusions because a probe has been ordered. He said once the probe findings are out, strict action will be taken against the culprits. He claimed that no deaths had taken place due to lack of oxygen.
Meanwhile, addressing a public meeting in Allahabad, Adityanath said the deaths in his hometown were caused by filth and the scourge of open defecation.
In more embarrassment for the state government, it has come to light that the staff of the Central Oxygen Pipeline Plant at the hospital – from where oxygen is piped to different wards – had written to the head of the paediatrics department warning them of dwindling oxygen stock.
They had forewarned that the shortage could hit the patients admitted in various wards, specially the children.
It appears that the warning fell on deaf ears and that no advance arrangements were made for the oxygen.
Meanwhile, Parveen Modi, owner of Pushpa Sales company, which used to supply oxygen to the BRD hospital, denied that his company had the tender to supply oxygen.
He said that his contract with the hospital had ended in March and was not renewed. He said the contract of Pushpa Sales was ended and the contract given to a new firm from Allahabad – Imperial Gas, after the BJP government came to power this year.
The opposition tore into the Adityanath government over the deaths. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who visited the hospital along with the party’s state unit chief Raj Babbar said Adityanath should personally apologise for the tragedy.
The principal opposition in the state, Samajwadi Party (SP) questioned the chief minister’s silence in the aftermath of the children’s deaths in his parliamentary constituency and hometown, that has left the state stunned.
Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati also lashed out at the Adityanath government. She said the state government’s callousness led to the tragedy and called for a high-level probe into the incident.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also questioned Adityanath’s silence. “First the callousness and now the shameless silence. It’s a pity that such indifferent people are ruling the state,” AAP spokesman Vaibhav Maheshwari said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has, however, hit back at the opposition, accusing it of “indulging in politics” on such a serious issue.
The medical college has been receiving massive funds from the state to tackle encephalitis, especially after Adityanath became the chief minister.