Even as a magisterial probe is underway into the death of over 60 children, including infants, at the Baba Raghav Das Medical college in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Saturday blamed lack of cleanliness. Addressing a gathering at Allahabad, Adityanath told the gathering that the death of these children in his hometown was caused by filth and scourge of open defecation.
"There are vector-borne diseases, such as encephalitis, you must be hearing media reports of BRD medical college these days...it is a tragedy that lives of young children have been snuffed out at such young age because we do not lead a clean and hygienic life," he said while reminding the crowd that the disease has been the bane of eastern Uttar Pradesh since 1978.
"Gandagi ki wajah se is desh ka baccha asamay kaal kalvit ho raha hai (Unclean surroundings are causing untimely death of children)," he said, while praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and how his Swacch Bharat mission aimed at ridding people of the dirty and filth around them.
"The governments cannot be the problem, they are solutions and if they are problems in themselves they have no right to continue," he added.
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh government suspended principal of the Baba Raghav Das Medical College RK Mishra for alleged negligence and callousness over the deaths of 63 children in five days. Mishra, however, 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, Health Minister Siddharth Nath 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.
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.
On the other hand, the Centre 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, where the children, including in the neonatal ward, were said to have perished due to lack of oxygen supply.
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. Dues exist, but we were not serving the hospital oxygen since March."