Ward 100 of Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital, where at least 60 children died in the last five days, was the scene of hectic political activity on Saturday with Opposition parties making a beeline for the building housing the paediatrics department.
Holding the UP government “responsible” for the deaths, the Congress demanded the resignation of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh. The SP and BSP, meanwhile, demanded a high-level inquiry into the incident while accusing the government of “gross criminal negligence”.
Claiming to have been sent by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, AICC general secretary Gulam Nabi Azad demanded the “resignation of the health minister and health secretary” and an “apology from the chief minister”.
He was accompanied by former Union minister R P N Singh, Rajya Sabha MPs Sanjay Sinh and Pramod Tiwari and UP party president Raj Babbar among others.
Claiming that during the UPA regime, when he was Union health minister, around Rs 250 crore was sent to the hospital just to fight AES and JE, Azad said: “It is a very sad incident. Sixty deaths in five days. Children have died without any reason.”
He clarified that he was referring to the deaths as “bewajah” because they have taken place due to “laparwahi” (negligence) of the state government. Azad claimed that due to the efforts of his government, encephalitis deaths had come down from 3,000 to about 100 in UP.
“Heads should roll now… It is a very big incident and neither the health minister nor the chief minister paid any attention to the issue earlier,” said Azad.
Questioning why postmortem examinations have not been conducted on the bodies of the deceased, he said: “MPs from all parties should also probe the incident.”
As Azad and other Congress leaders entered the building — they were made to wear masks and boot covers — some doctors objected, fearing contamination.
Following this, no other leader was allowed inside the building. Heavy police force was deployed outside to prevent leaders from going in.
Soon after Azad and other Congress leaders left, Samajwadi Party leader Awadhesh Yadav arrived at the hospital. Claiming to be a member of the SP executive committee and a former district president, he held Adityanath, also the Gorakhpur MP, responsible for the deaths. “It is serious negligence… while the chief minister was here, children were dying in the ward. He is directly answerable.”
Later in the day, BJP MP Kamlesh Paswan too visited the hospital. As he was informed that Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh was already holding meetings with the hospital staff, Paswan preferred to not say much. Later, local Aam Aadmi Party leaders were seen outside the building, but they soon left after accusing the state government of negligence.
Meanwhile, a six-member SP team will visit Gorakhpur and submit a report to party chief Akhilesh Yadav by August 13. A three-member BSP team, too, will visit Gorakhpur.
Blaming the UP government, Akhilesh said in Lucknow: “The company supplying oxygen had informed the principal that it would stop the supply if payment was not made and the government must be aware that the deaths have been caused due to shortage of oxygen.”
Stating that the exact toll was not available with the Opposition, he added: “We have received information that as the children were dying, their families were being taken out of the hospital in a hush-hush manner.”
In a statement, BSP chief Mayawati said the deaths were “an example of extreme criminal negligence of public good and welfare”. She demanded a “high-level probe” and “help for the family of the victims”.
“As it is not in the nature of the BJP to accept its follies, the matter of dismissing the departmental ministers for this negligence should be left to the wisdom of the CM,” Mayawati said.
She alleged that the issues of people’s welfare were of no importance “for the governments of the BJP”. “Issues like Tiranga, Vande Mataram, madarsa, anti-Romeo squads — which divert the attention of the people — are of more importance to them,” she said.
Mayawati claimed the deaths had occurred at a time when Adityanath had been on a tour of Gorakhpur and “was doing government work by taking time off from his political activities and puja-paath”.
She said the “shocking incident at such a time puts not one but 100 question marks on the ability and working of the BJP government”.
(With PTI inputs)