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UP orders probe into Gorakhpur child deaths

PMO monitoring situation; Opposition seeks resignations

An inside view of a ward of Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital in Gorakhpur on Friday.
A woman with her child, who is admitted at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur Photo: PTI

The Uttar Pradesh government on Saturday suspended the principal of the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur, after the death of 30 infants since Thursday, allegedly because a private supplier of oxygen to the hospital snapped supply due to payment arrears. 

A probe led by the chief secretary also been ordered, said state Health Education Minister Ashutosh Tandon. “Why was there a delay in payment? Why was the supply of oxygen stopped? These aspects will be probed by the panel. Till then, we are suspending the principal of Baba Raghav Das Medical College with immediate effect for his irresponsible act,” he added.

Gorakhpur is Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s parliamentary constituency. He visited it last Wednesday and chaired a review meeting, before visiting several hospitals. 

On Saturday, Opposition Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alleged 60 children had died in Gorakhpur over the past five days and said they were sending teams to the town, about 750 km northwest of state capital Lucknow. State Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh, however, said 60 children had died since last Monday due to various causes and not only lack of oxygen. 

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said PM Narendra Modi was monitoring the situation and Union Minister of State for Health, Anupriya Patel, would take stock. Patel will also visit the hospital. Adityanath’s official Twitter handle said Union Health Minister J P Nadda had also enquired about the developments. 

Sources said the private oxygen supplier to the BRD Medical College had outstanding bills of over Rs 68 lakh, and had written several letters to officials concerned, seeking clearance of payment.

This is the first major setback for the Adityanath government, set to complete five months in office, and roll out its farm loan waiver scheme on August 17. A former chief secretary, on the condition of anonymity, said, “It is apparent that the new CM is yet to form his core team of officials to pilot flagship projects and policies.”

His government was on the receiving end of criticism from within the National Democratic Alliance as well as an outraged Opposition. Bharatiya Janata Party Unnao Member of Parliament (MP) Sakshi Maharaj said, “The person, who switched off the oxygen supply on the pretext of non-payment of dues, was responsible for the incident.” Lok Janshakti Party leader and Union food minister Ram Vilas Paswan said this was an “hour of test” for the UP CM. 

The Opposition parties slammed the government, calling the death a result of “criminal negligence”. They also demanded the resignation of state Health Minister Siddharth Nath.

Former Chief Minister and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said, “The government must have been aware of the crisis. We have received information that as children were dying, their families were being taken out of the hospital in a hush-hush manner.”

A six-member team, led by the Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, Ram Govind Chaudhury, will submit a report on the Gorakhpur incident to the party chief by Sunday. 

BSP chief Mayawati, said, “Issues like tiranga (Tricolour), Vande Mataram, madarsa, anti-Romeo squads — which divert the attention of the people — are of more importance to them (the BJP).” A three-member BSP team was rushed to Gorakhpur.

The Congress, too, sent a team, led by MP Ghulam Nabi Azad, state party chief Raj Babbar and former Union minister R P N Singh. They visited the hospital and have demanded a report from the state government.