At least 30 children died in the state-run Baba Raghav Das Medical College here since the past two days, district magistrate Rajeev Rautela said Saturday.
Though he gave no reason for the deaths, the Union home ministry said according to the SP of Gorakhpur, 21 children died due to shortage of supply of liquid oxygen.
“As per SP Gorakhpur, 21 children died due to shortage of supply of liquid oxygen in BRD Medical College, in last 36 hours. Senior officers are on the spot. Exact cause is being verified by civil administration,” a home ministry spokesperson said.
The incident triggered a spate of reactions from the opposition parties, with the Samajwadi Party and the Congress seeking the resignation of the state health minister.
Rautela said 17 children died in the neo-natal ward, 5 in AES (acute encephalitis syndrome) ward and 8 in the general ward over the last two days.
He said seven deaths (neo-natal ward 3, AES ward 2 and general ward 2) were reported since last midnight, while the remaining 23 deaths (neo-natal 14, AES 3 and general 6) were reported since midnight of August 9-10.
To a specific question as to whether the casualties were due to shortage in supply of oxygen, Rautela, who was camping in the hospital, said he found out from the doctors that no death occurred due to lack of oxygen.
The state government, in an official release in Lucknow, also rubbished reports about non-availability of oxygen at the hospital.
Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh told reporters, “The deaths of children were very unfortunate and government will set up an inquiry committee to ascertain if any lapse have been there and if anyone is found guilty he will be made accountable.”
Citing a break-up of casualties since August 7 till date, he said according to reports from the paediatric department of the college, 60 children have died due to various diseases during the period.
Singh asserted that the deaths were not because of paucity of oxygen.
The district magistrate said alternative arrangements had been made from nearby nursing homes since last night and from neighbouring Sant Kabir Nagar district to ensure availability of liquid oxygen for the hospital.
“At present, there are 50 oxygen cylinders and 100 to 150 more cylinders will be reaching soon,” he said.
Asked whether the vendor supplying oxygen had stopped doing so pending payment to the tune of Rs 70 lakh, the district magistrate said part payment had been made to the contractor for supply of oxygen to the hospital.
He said the reason behind the deaths is being ascertained and action will be taken against those responsible.
A magisterial enquiry has been ordered to find the exact reasons leading to the deaths so that basic facts could come out by tomorrow evening.
The incident comes barely two days after the visit of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to Gorakhpur, his Lok Sabha constituency.
Ever since taking over the reins of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath has been stressing on improving the condition of medical and education sectors.
In April, the Adityanath government had announced that it has started work on setting up six AIIMS and 25 new medical colleges in the state, one of the promises the BJP made in the run-up to the assembly polls.
Terming the death of children as unfortunate, UP Congress President Raj Babbar said, “It shows the insensitivity of the the state government.”
“The state government is responsible for the deaths. How can there be shortage of oxygen? The CM himself was on visit to (adjoining) Mahrajganj yesterday. Gorakhpur is his home district and he should have visited the medical college in Gorakhpur to know about the ground reality there,” he said.
He sought resignation of the health minister on moral grounds and compensation of Rs 20 lakh each to the kin of children who died.
Babbar said that the chief minister should seek a report from all districts about the health facilities there.
Samajwadi Party spokesman Rajendra Chowhdury too termed the incident as unfortunate and demanded resignation of the health minister.
“The health minister should resign on moral grounds. CM should fix accountability and also take responsibility. Gorkahpur is his home district and such incident there shows insensitivity of the government,” he said.
Former chief minister and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav held the state government responsible for the tragic deaths and demanded strict action and compensation of Rs 20 lakh each for the kin of the deceased.
Adityanath had launched a campaign to eradicate the deadly encephalitis disease that claims the lives of hundreds of children every year in Uttar Pradesh.
He stressed on awareness and public participation for the success of the campaign that has been rolled out in 38 districts in the worst-affected eastern region of the state.
“We eradicated diseases like polio and malaria and now encephalitis is our target,” he had said launching the campaign here.
Some 40,000 children have died of the disease in the past four decades in the region.
“Today’s campaign has been started with the aim of eradicating encephalitis of all kinds Japanese Encephalitis (JE) and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) and making the state encephalitis-free in the coming few years,” he said.