The Uttar Pradesh government claimed on Saturday that the deaths of children at Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital had not occurred due to shortage of oxygen. The government suspended Rajeev Mishra, principal of the college, for negligence in delaying the release of payment to the supplier of oxygen to the hospital, and ordered a high-level inquiry.
Health Minister Sidhartha Nath Singh told reporters in Gorakhpur that the supply of oxygen had indeed fallen in the evening of August 10, but the situation had been controlled within a few hours — and that none of the deaths had occurred during the window of the crisis.
In Lucknow, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told a news conference in the evening that a variety of ailments, not a cut in the supply of oxygen, had led to the deaths. Speaking in Allahabad earlier, the chief minister had blamed the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis on polluted groundwater and lack of cleanliness and personal hygiene. He did not on that occasion comment on the deaths in Gorakhpur.
“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,” Health Minister 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.”
None of the deaths, Singh said, took place between 11.30 pm on August 10 and 1.30 am on August 11, when the supply was short; therefore, the minister argued, the deaths could not be blamed on the shortage of oxygen.
Singh 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. Even after the government released funds on August 5, the hospital had sat on it without reason, Singh said.
Minister for Medical Education Ashutosh Tandon, who too was in Gorakhpur, said Principal Mishra had forwarded the supplier’s August 1 letter to the government, following which money was released on August 5. The principal had received the funds in his account on August 7, but had been unable to explain why he had failed to release it immediately, Tandon said.
Singh, who met with experts and staff at the hospital for over four hours, said 587 children had died at the hospital in August 2016, and the corresponding figures for 2015 and 2014 were 668 and 567. “Due to the sensitivity of the issue, the Chief Minister called me and the Medical Education Minister for a meeting at his residence early in the morning and told us to visit Gorakhpur to personally look into the entire incident,” Singh said.
In Lucknow, the chief minister held an emergency meeting with the ministers and officers of the Medical and Health and Medical Education departments. The government said that the rate of death of children in BRD Medical College Hospital in the 11 days of August this year was lower than the comparable rate in previous years.
Adityanath gave a break-up of the deaths: 9 on August 7, 12 on August 8, 9 on August 9, 23 on August 10, and 7 until midnight on August 11. Four more deaths were reported after midnight on the August 11, he said. An committee under Chief Secretary Rajiv Kumar would inquire into the role of the oxygen supplier, the CM said. The agreement between the medical college and the supplier had been signed in 2014 for eight years, he said.
Health Minister Singh provided details of the time and reasons for each of the deaths of children at the hospital on August 10: 3.30 am (kidney injury), 3.45 am (pre-term with low birth weight), 4 am (pre-birth low weight), 6.30 (pneumonia), 10.30 am (infection), 11 am (shock of acute encephalitis syndrome), 11.55 am (low weight), 12.10 pm (kidney ailment), 1.30 pm (kidney ailment), 2.30 pm (low weight), 3.15 pm (infection), 4 pm (low weight), 4.45 pm (top-feed shock), 5.10 pm (respiratory problem), 6.25 pm (abdominal infection), 7.30 pm (hepatic encephalopathy with shocks), 7.45 pm (infection), 8 pm (sepsis), 8.25 pm (AES), 8.40 pm (chronic heart disease), 10 pm (AES), 10.05 pm (sepsis). The next child death at the hospital had occurred at 5.30 am on August 11 due to pneumonia, the government said.
Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Anupriya Patel too attended the meeting with the chief minister. Patel said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked her to visit the medical college. The union Health Secretary too had reached Gorakhpur, she said. Patel said the UP government would sent a report to the Centre.
Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the situation as a “test” for the BJP government in UP. “I am sure the chief minister will take it very seriously. This is an hour of test for the chief minister,” Paswan said in Delhi.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought information about the Gorakhpur incident. On his directives, Union Health minister J P Nadda and MoS Anupriya Patel also sought information on the incident,” Adityanath said in a tweet.
“MoS Health Anupriya Patel & the Union Health Secretary will take stock of the situation from Gorakhpur,” the PMO announced on Twitter. “PM is constantly monitoring the situation in Gorakhpur,” the PMO said.
Ward number 100 at BRD Medical College remained the centre of political activity all day. Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Raj Babbar, RPN Singh and Pramod Tiwari visited, and later demanded the resignation of the “health ministers and health secretaries” and an “apology from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath”.
Azad said he had been asked to visit the hospital by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. “It is a sad incident and has taken place due to the negligence of the state government. Heads should roll now,” Azad said.