At least 10 newborns died in a fire at a government hospital in Maharashtra’s Bhandara in the early hours of Saturday.
Bhandara Collector Sandeep Kadam told The Indian Express that the fire broke out in the outborn section of the hospital around 1.30 am. “At the time, there were two nurses and a helper in the children’s ward. They immediately raised an alarm. The fire brigade was called out. But, before it arrived, staffers tried to rescue the children and managed to save seven infants.”
He added, “Rescue efforts were affected by continuous explosions inside the ward. The staffers couldn’t rescue all the children. Asked if a short-circuit was the probable cause of the fire, Kadam said, “It is too early to say anything.”
Bhandara District Health Officer Dr Prashant Uike said the SNCU is a 36-bed ward. “As on Friday night, 17 children were admitted. The seven who were rescued and have been admitted to another ward. We do not plan to move them to another hospital yet.”
The ages of the deceased children ranged between a few days to a few months.
Civil Surgeon Dr Pramod Khandate said, “Most newborns died due to suffocation. One baby had fatal burn injuries, and two others had minor burns injuries. The rest inhaled a lot of smoke.”
The outborn section is for children born elsewhere but referred to the government hospital for some kind of special treatment. It wasn’t immediately known how many were boys and how many were girls.
Early Saturday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray ordered a probe after speaking to state Health Minister Rajesh Tope as well as the district collector and superintendent of police of Bhandara district. Thackeray said the government will conduct an audit of all neo-natal care units across the state to ensure safety. Tope is en route to Bhandara.
The state government also announced Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the kin of the deceased. No post-mortems were conducted, and the bodies were handed over to the families.
Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation Vijay Wadettiwar said, “It’s a very unfortunate incident. We have called teams from National Fire Safety College and Visveswaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur, to find out the reasons behind the mishap within 15 days. We will not spare anyone found responsible.”
Wadettiwar, however, admitted that a proposal for fire safety equipment for the hospital had been pending since May last year. “What happened to it will also be found out,” he said. He also said that the newborn section was inaugurated in 2016 without requisite fire safety clearance. “We will also find out why that was done,” he said.
The minister said, “All the government hospitals must be provided with modern fire safety equipment. We will discuss that in the Cabinet meeting.” He also said that government hospitals must go through a periodic fire safety audit.
President Ram Nath Kovind conveyed his condolences to the affected families. “I am deeply saddened by the untimely death of infants in a fire accident in Bhandara, Maharashtra. My heartfelt condolences to the families who lost their children in this heart-wrenching event,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the incident “heart-wrenching”. He tweeted, “Heart-wrenching tragedy in Bhandara, Maharashtra, where we have lost precious young lives. My thoughts are with all the bereaved families. I hope the injured recover as early as possible.”
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, meanwhile, said, “The fire accident in Bhandara district hospital, Maharashtra is very unfortunate. I am pained beyond words. My thoughts and condolences are with bereaved families. May God give them the strength to bear this irreparable loss.”
Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari said he was saddened by the tragic incident. “Extremely saddened to know about the most tragic incident of fire at Bhandara Civil Hospital. Convey my deepest condolences to the families of the innocent children who lost their lives,” he said.
Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, Devendra Fadnavis called for action against those responsible. “The government should carry out a thorough inquiry into the incident and initiate action against those who are responsible for the death of 10 infants. It is a very painful accident,” he said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi conveyed his condolences as well. “The unfortunate incident of fire at Bhandara District General Hospital in Maharashtra is extremely tragic. My condolences to the families of the children who lost their lives. I appeal to Maha Govt to provide every possible assistance to the families of the injured & deceased,” he wrote.
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