Facing intense scrutiny from the Opposition over the Gorakhpur hospital tragedy, the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government on Saturday sacked Dr. Kafeel Khan as nodal officer for the Department of Pediatrics of Baba Raghav Das Medical College. The latest development comes a day after the state government suspended Rajeev Mishra as college principal for negligence in delaying the release of payment to the supplier of oxygen to the hospital and ordering a magisterial inquiry into the incident.
More than 70 children have died since August 7 at the BRD medical college in Gorakhpur, which falls under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s Lok Sabha constituency. Infections and possible disruption of oxygen supply in the paediatrics ward are being blamed for the death. However, the hospital and district administration have rejected the contention that inadequate oxygen supply led to the tragedy.
Among ailments, Japanese encephalitis is claimed to be the major reason for the tragedy. Gorkhapur is the worst-affected region in the state due to encephalitis. Although vaccines are available, there is no such vaccine for checking Acute Encephalitis Syndrome and better hygiene is the only way to ward it off.
In the wake of the tragedy, Union Health Minister J P Nadda has announced that the Centre has approved the setting up of a regional medical centre at a cost of Rs 85 crore in Gorakhpur for research into children’s diseases. He said before coming to Gorakhpur he had sanctioned the proposal for a regional medical research centre. “Before coming here, I have approved the establishment of a regional medical research centre in Gorakhpur, at a cost of Rs 85 crore. This institute will conduct research into the infections of children and their possible reasons,” Nadda said, while addressing a press conference along with CM Adityanath.
Earlier in the day, Adityanath called for a full-fledged virus research centre in his constituency. “The geography of east UP is such that we cannot win the war against vector-borne diseases until we have a full-fledged viral research centre. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given AIIMS, we have started it. But, there should be a full-fledged viral research centre in Gorakhpur,” Adityanath had said. He also warned that exemplary action would be taken against those found responsible for the scores of deaths.
He also warned that exemplary action would be taken against those found responsible for the scores of deaths. I have formed a high-level Committee under the supervision of the Chief Secretary and a thorough probe has been ordered to check the cause of the deaths in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and the supply of oxygen,” he said.
“Let the report of the Committee come… I want to assure you all that not only in Gorakhpur but in any government hospital if there has been any lapse then we will take strict action after the BRD hospital tragedy,” he said.
Nadda also sought to defend the beleaguered CM, saying Adityanath used to raise the issue of Japanese Encephalitis during every session of the Parliament and that this was the first time that the issue was not raised as he was not present.
On Saturday, CM Adityanath stated that a variety of ailments, not a cut in the supply of oxygen, had led to the deaths. He had also blamed the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis on polluted groundwater and lack of cleanliness and personal hygiene.
Addressing media persons in Gorakhpur, state Health Minister Sidhartha Nath Singh admitted that the supply of oxygen had fallen in the evening of August 10, but added that the situation had been brought to control within a few hours. “Around 7.30 pm on August 10, the supply of liquid oxygen became low and the meter started beeping but it was met by oxygen cylinders,” Singh said. “But this system worked only until 11.30 pm… Supply through cylinders was not sufficient until about 1.30 am on August 11, but after that supply resumed.”
Arguing that the deaths could not be blamed on the shortage of oxygen, Singh pointed out that none of the deaths took place between 11.30 pm on August 10 and 1.30 am on August 11, when the supply was short. He also claimed that the hospital administration had failed to inform the chief minister about the pending payment to the oxygen supplier during his two visits to the hospital on July 9 and August 9. Despite releasing funds, the hospital had sat on it without reason, he added.
Oxygen firm warned it would cut supply
Pushpa Sales Pvt Limited, the company which supplies liquid oxygen to BRD medical college, had earlier warned the hospital of discontinuing its supply due to non-payment of dues. The company dispatched at least seven reminders from February to August this year, asking the hospital to clear its pending dues.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Deepankar Sharma, the company’s sales manager in Gorakhpur, said they had also sent a legal notice to the hospital administration on July 31, but there was no response. “As per the agreement, payments should be made within 15 days, and the arrears should never exceed Rs 10 lakh. Our payment was due since November 2016, and only two partial payments were released (in May and June). However, we continued to supply oxygen for about nine months on humanitarian grounds. But finally, we did not have enough funds to pay the company from which we source oxygen,” said Sharma, adding that they maintained supply till August 4.
Opposition mounts attack on ruling government, demands CM’s resignation
Describing the death of infants as “murder”, UP Congress demanded CM Adityanath’s resignation and said if he was unable to handle an institution, how will he run the state. “70 children were murdered in the last four days (since August 10). The state government is responsible for their murder. This government is a killer and I want to ask how many more children will be killed,” UP Congress Committee chief Raj Babbar told reporters.
Insisting that a case of murder should be registered against those who are found guilty, Babbar demanded a compensation of Rs 1 crore each for the victim’s parents. “The chief minister had visited the hospital, but he was not aware about the oxygen crisis. The CM has constituted a probe committee but the government has already said that deaths were not due to shortage of oxygen. Then why a probe?” the UPCC president said. He also criticised Sidharth Nath Singh for terming deaths in August as “routine”.
Reacting to the suspension of Dr Rajeev Mishra, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said he was made a “scapegoat” and termed as “irresponsible” the state health minister’s remarks that “many children die” in the month of August every year at this hospital.
Responding to Congress’ allegations, Adityanath said, “This is not the time to indulge in politics, but to show sensitivity. And sensitivity is in finding an answer to vector-borne diseases and eradicating them.
“When Ghulam Nabi Azad was the Union health minister, he had said that he cannot do anything (about Japanese encephalitis in Gorakhpur) since health is a state subject. People whose sensitivity has died, are now unnecessarily rubbing salt to wounds by raising a sensitive issue,” the chief minister said.
With inputs from Agencies