The Odisha government issued a showcause notice to Bhubaneswar’s SUM Hospital Wednesday asking it why it shouldn’t be pulled down on account of Monday’s fire, which has killed 21 so far. Also, Bhubaneswar police issued a lookout circular against Manoj Nayak, chairman of the trust running the hospital, as well as his wife Saswati. And the state government decided to carry out a fire safety audit of all hospitals.
These moves came on a day when Union Health Minister J P Nadda urged the state to take action against those responsible, and the National Human Rights Commission sent a notice to the state government.
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Also Wednesday, fire broke out at the Kendrapara district headquarters hospital, while a digital generator was being welded. There were no casualties but a few patients and their relatives fled. Fire personnel across the road brought the flames under control.
Bhubaneswar police commissioner Y B Khurania said they have requested the Ministry of Home Affairs too to issue a lookout circular and put it up at all airports so that the couple do not flee the country.
Nayak, 56, heads the trust Siksha O Anusandhan Charitable Trust that runs the hospital and several other institutions including medical and engineering colleges. The police raided his home and office. Though the FIRs lodged so far do not mention his name, police said there is enough evidence to arrest Nayak and his wife. Sources said the SIT on black money has asked the Enforcement Directorate to probe the financial transactions of Nayak’s trust.
Nadda visited the injured at hospitals in Bhubaneswar along with Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. Nadda said he would issue a fresh advisory to all states to prevent such incidents from recurring. “Though fire safety is a matter relating to the home department, the health department has a responsibility to ensure safety of patients in hospitals. In spite of the hospital not having fire safety clearance, it was running. It is a serious matter,” said Nadda. He said the state government should ensure those responsible “should not go scot- free”.
The National Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognisance of the deaths and issued a notice asking the state to file a report within six weeks, with details of relief and precautionary measures taken or proposed.
The state fires services department in a recent report has said that of the 160 hospitals and nursing homes in Bhubaneswar, only three have secured the necessary fire safety certificate. According to the NHRC notice, only three in entire Orissa have fire safety clearance, out of 568.
The state government has now decided to conduct a fire safety audit at all government-run healthcare institutions at district and sub-divisional levels, as well as medical colleges. At a meeting chaired by chief secretary A P Padhi and attended by the secretaries of energy and health departments and director general of fire services Binay Behera, it was decided to give a month’s time to the energy and works department to submit their requirements after inspection.
The state government has also decided to frame rules of the Odisha Fire Service Act 1993 that would help specify fire safety norms and empower fire authorities to act against violators. Though the Odisha Fire Service Act came into existence 23 years ago, the rules are yet to be framed.