With pressure mounting on Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for action on Monday’s SUM hospital fire tragedy that led to death of 25 patients, Odisha health minister and his close confidante, Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak on Friday resigned from the ministry.
As the death toll mounted to 25 today with 4 of the 100-odd patients succumbing to their injuries, Patnaik had little option but to seek the resignation of Nayak, who is under fire from opposition parties for his proximity to the arrested chief of SUM Hospital, Manoj Nayak. Manoj was arrested on Thursday and was remanded to two days’ police custody as police invoked several sections of culpable homicide not amounting to murder for the fire tragedy. He was interrogated over the negligence on fire safety.
Patnaik was already under tremendous pressure since last few months over a series of incidents involving the gross failure of the health department including the death of 64 kids in Malkangiri district due to Japanese Encephalitis and the case of Kalahandi tribal Dana Majhi carrying the body of his wife on his back after being denied a hearse van. The SUM hospital tragedy proved to be too much for the CM to face. An influential section of the ruling BJD also strongly lobbied against Nayak saying his continuation would sully the image of Patnaik and portray him as an ineffective CM.
The pressure further mounted as the death toll went up to 25 after 4 more patients, including one suffering from leaukemia, died while undergoing treatment at Bhubaneswar’s Capital hospital and AMRI and Cuttack’s SCB medical college and hospital. Official sources said Biswanath Behera of Bhubaneswar, Annapurna Samantray of Puri, Sk Qurban of Khurda and Rashmita Swain of Puri succumbed to their injuries since last evening. On Monday night, 21 patients, many of them under treatment at ICU or taking dialysis, died and over 100 were injured toxic fumes from a blaze swept through the hospital corridors and wards asphyxiating them.
The health minister was also under fire for his perceived proximity to Manoj, as his department in April this year had renewed the hospital’s licence to operate under Odisha Clinical Establishment Act, 1992 despite no fire safety clearance. Atanu’s detractors too pointed out to the fact that his wife Bandana Khuntia worked as a lecturer in the plus two college run by Manoj-led SOA Group of institutions. Using his proximity with the health minister, Manoj was reportedly lobbying for a MP ticket in next Lok Sabha poll.
However, opposition BJP kept up its heat on the CM saying as minister in-charge of home department, Patnaik is responsible for fire safety. “We will keep on demanding CM’s resignation,” said Sajjan Kumar, BJP spokesman.
Meanwhile the State government removed SUM Hospital from the list of impaneled hospitals under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, a Central-government run health insurance scheme for the below poverty line persons. It was also delisted as referral hospital under Odisha State Treatment Fund. However, it is still impaneled as one of the 10 hospitals of Central Government Health Scheme of the Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare.
The 1000-bed hospital may face further action with the Bhubaneswar Development Authority officials discovering that the multi-storey building in which SUM hospital operated has been built without its permission. BDA Planning Member, Sudhir Mohanty said the hospital authorities had asked for permission to build a multi-storeyed one in 2010, but it was rejected. Though the BDA officials had asked them to install fire equipment, nothing was done. The hospital authorities also do not have occupancy certificate.
The Khurda district department which in April this year had renewed its licence to operate under Odisha Clinical Establishment Act despite no fire safety clearance, has now served closure notice on it. The Enforcement Directorate too has started its probe in the financial dealings of the hospital.
In a separate incident, the police today detained four miscreants for allegedly attacking mediapersons who were filming the SUM hospital owner at the Jharpada Circle Jail, where he has been lodged since last night. The four miscreants shoved the newsmen and tried to snap the wires of the TV channels’ van when the latter tried to ask questions to Manoj. They have been detained at the Laxmisagar police station after the newsmen lodged a police complaint.