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Probe stuck as local police yet to get access to electrical inspection report

On November 6, a fire had started in the ICU ward, where 17 Covid-19 patients were undergoing treatment.

Written by Rupsa Chakraborty | Mumbai |
December 4, 2021 12:36:26 am
Sources said the committee has recommended installation of manual call box device, which enables personnel to raise an alarm in the event of a fire, removal of false ceilings that are extremely flammable and keeping two exits in ICU wards, among others. (Representational)

INVESTIGATION INTO the Ahmednagar district hospital fire is stuck, as the state government is yet to provide the local police access to the electrical inspection report of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) ward where the fire broke out on November 6, killing 14 Covid-19 patients.

In the last 20 days, the police have sent five reminders to the government seeking the report, said officers.

On November 6, a fire had started in the ICU ward, where 17 Covid-19 patients were undergoing treatment. Among them, while three were charred to death, the others died due to suffocation. Despite an audit by the Ahmednagar civic fire brigade in January suggesting setting up of a fire-fighting system, the hospital didn’t have sprinklers and fire alarms.

Within 72 hours of the mishap, senior resident doctor Dr Vishaka Shinde, along with nurses Sapna Pathare, Asma Shaikh and Channa Anant, were arrested on November 9 under sections 304 (culpable homicide) and 304A (causing death by negligence) of the IPC. They are currently out on bail.
The government has also suspended Ahmednagar Civil Surgeon Dr Sunil Pokharna and Medical Officer Dr Suresh Dhakne.

In the last 25 days, the police investigation has hit a roadblock as the state electrical inspector hasn’t submitted the most important evidence in the matter — the electrical inspection report. The police said it sent the first of the five reminders on November 8, two days after the incident. The last one was sent on December 3.

Sandip Mitke, the Investigating Officer, said: “It is the most important evidence, as it will help us identify the cause of the alleged short circuit and its source. Without it, we won’t be able to find out who were responsible for the electrical fault that caused the fire.”

Currently, the police are recording the statements of the victims’ kin and eyewitnesses, which are inadequate in providing technical evidence. “So far, we only have circumstantial evidence,” said Mitke.
A seven-member committee headed by Divisional Commissioner Radhakrishna Ghame, set up to probe the incident, on Monday had submitted its report to the Chief Minister’s Office.

When contacted, Ghame confirmed the development but said: “I am not allowed to talk about the findings of the investigation, which are confidential.” He also refused to comment on the delay on the part of the government in submitting the electrical inspection report to the police.

Sources said that according to CCTV camera footage, the fire started between the false and concrete ceiling of the ward, gradually spreading to the equipment placed near the beds 18 and 19. “Nurses in their statement said that the ventilators of Covid-19 patients on beds 18 and 19 (who were charred to death) were switched off. So, there is no possibility that a short circuit happened in the ventilators. Likely, the spark was caused by electrical wiring,” said a senior officer.

Sources said the committee has recommended installation of manual call box device, which enables personnel to raise an alarm in the event of a fire, removal of false ceilings that are extremely flammable and keeping two exits in ICU wards, among others.

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