Under all-round attack, the Uttar Pradesh government on Saturday suspended the head of the hospital over the deaths of 63 children in five days, even as Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his Health Minister blamed it on lack of cleanliness and diseases and not due to lack of oxygen.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in whose constituency the hospital is located, the opposition demanded the resignations of the state Health and Medical Education Ministers.
The Centre sent Minister of State for Health Anupriya Patel and Health Secretary C.K. Mishra to Gorakhpur and look into the lapses in the BRD Medical College, where the children, including in the neonatal ward, were said to have perished due to lack of oxygen supply.
Principal of the Baba Raghav Das Medical College R.K. 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, Singh 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.
"There are vector-borne diseases, such as encephalitis ...It is a tragedy that lives of young children have been snuffed out because we do not lead a clean and hygienic life," he said and reminded the crowd that the disease has been the bane of eastern Uttar Pradesh since 1978.
Singh, along with his cabinet colleague, Medical Education Minister Ashutosh Tandon, were sent by the Chief Minister on Saturday morning to the hospital. Singh said the Chief Minister had visited the hospital on July 9 and again on August 9 where many things were reviewed, but the shortage of oxygen or any payment issue was never discussed.
He said that in 2014 the number of deaths due to encephalitis was 19, in 2015 it was 22, and 19 in 2016. Singh explained that he was not trying to justify the deaths at the BRD hospital.
The Minister said they have gone through the oxygen gas supply issue and that after thorough scrutiny they were of the opinion that the deaths had not taken place due to lack of oxygen. He also said that if any disruption in oxygen supply comes to light in further probe, the guilty would be brought to book.
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 told media persons 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.
Modi said that till date Rs 20 lakh payment was pending with the hospital and that he had supplied liquid oxygen on Friday too, after a request made by the Divisional Commissioner.
"I did so completely on humanitarian grounds," he said, and denied reports that he had disrupted the oxygen supply over non-payment of dues.
"I have supplied 200 cylinders after the request made by officials," he added.
"Dues exist, but we were not serving the hospital oxygen since March" he clarified.
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 apologize 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.
Samajwadi Party General Secretary Ram Gopal Yadav said it was very unfortunate that Adityanath has not uttered a word on such a "heart wrenching" tragedy.
"Gorakhpur where the children have died in such large numbers is the Chief Minister's constituency and hometown. He has been there several times after assuming the post. And in the past 24 hours he has sadly said nothing on the issue," he said.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo 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.
Mayawati said a three-member fact finding team from her party will visit the medical college.
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 told IANS.
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.
Attendants and family members of the patients admitted here, however, claim that despite the funds, there were neither doctors, nor proper treatment, adequate medicines or oxygen supply at the medical college.
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