Gorakhpur Tragedy

Courtesy: The TelegraphThe Hindu | Image Credit: The QuintNews Hunt

After the news of the death of more than 70 children at Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College Hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh due to non-payment of dues worth Rs 68 lakh broke out last week, the first reaction of the state government was the denial of the fact that the deaths were due to cutting off of oxygen supply.

“No deaths have taken place due to shortage of oxygen supple. They were due to different medical reason,” Gorakhpur District Magistrate Rajeev Rautela had said. The state health minister too blatantly reiterated the same.

Sixty kids had died in five days and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited the hospital on the 9th day and blamed the medical college’s principal, officials and the oxygen supplier for the deaths. He claimed that his office didn’t know about the shortage in oxygen supply until August 4 and assured that “stringent actions” will be taken against those responsible.

However, documents disclosed by the local administration revealed that the Uttar Pradesh government and its ministers were aware of the catastrophe that took the lives of 70+ innocent children.

The Telegraph has seen documents which prove that CM Adityanath’s government was very much aware of the dues owed to the gas vendor to the medical college. An inquiry by the Gorakhpur district administration had held principal of BRD medical college hospital Dr Rajiv Mishra, among others, “prima facie guilty of not discharging his duties” and had suspended him before accepting his resignation.

As the government resorted to a blame-game without taking responsibility for its own faux pas, here’s the reality as reported by The Telegraph:

On March 22, Mishra wrote to the director general of the medical and health department which functions under union health and family welfare minister Siddarth Nath Singh to clear the vendor dues. An attached copy of a payment reminder to Pushpa Sales Pvt Ltd was attached and shared with the state medical education minister Ashutosh Tandon.

The Hindu also reported that Tandon was kept in the loop.

No response from the government.

On April 3, Mishra forwarded a similar letter to the additional chief secretary of the medical education department, with copies to the director-general of the medical and health and medical education departments. He attached the latest reminder from the vendor, received on the same day.

No response from the government.

He kept writing to the additional chief secretary, with copies to the director-general, attaching the latest reminders on eight different occasions after this and at least five of the reminders included threats from Pushpa Sales of stoppage of oxygen supply.

No response from the government.

On August 1, Mishra again wrote to the additional chief secretary, attaching the latest reminder signed by Pushpa Sales executive Dipankar Sharma, which says the dues have grown to Rs 63.65 lakh and must be paid immediately to ensure “uninterrupted supply” of oxygen. A copy was marked to minister Tandon.

On August 4, Tandon claimed that this was the first time that he found out the delay in payments and the lack of oxygen supply. However, on July 10, in a written response to a question raised by Samajwadi Party MLC C P Chand, Tandon had said that he sought clarifications from the Director General, Medical Education Department, on allegations of “irregularities and misuse” in the hospital. He promised Chand that his queries would be answered soon.

On August 4, Tandon said that an order of Rs 2 crore to be transferred to the Gorakhpur treasury towards the payment of the dues was made by him.

By August 7 the money had arrived in the treasury, according to Tandon. On August 8, Mishra sent a college accountant to the treasury to get a token clearing the payment.

The next day Pushpa sales directly wrote to Tandon, sources in the company revealed to The Telegraph. The Hindu also has a copy of the letter from company director Maneesh Bhandari which said that the six-month dues have risen to Rs 68.65 lakh despite the principal being informed “many times through letters, orally, telephone, email and a legal notice”.

“We personally handed this letter to the minister on August 9 morning. He and (chief minister Yogi) Adityanath went to the medical college the same afternoon to hold a review meeting,” an executive of Pushpa Sales said to The Telegraph.

We came to know from hospital authorities that they had told the chief minister about the problem and he had looked questioningly at Tandon. After that, Adityanath apparently stayed silent,” he added.

The vendor still remained unpaid and stopped the oxygen supply in the evening after CM Adityanath left the college.

On August 10, 23 babies died and CM Adityanath denied that he had any knowledge of the delay in payment or the oxygen supply. What’s interesting to note here is that BRD medical college hospital is located in the parliamentary constituency CM Adityanath has represented since 1998.

Even after the first 23 deaths, the vendor remained unpaid and Mishra had no explanation why.

A sum of Rs 52 lakh was finally transferred to the company’s account the next day through Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS), an electronic form of funds transfer. The vendor then resumed supply.

On August 12, union health and family welfare minister Siddarth Nath Singh suspended Mishra, blaming him for the deaths. But even before a probe, the government said that the children did not die due to lack of oxygen supply.

On August 14, Nath reported that the oxygen supply was disrupted because “some people wanted kickbacks”. He did not say who they were. On the same day, Mishra ignored calls from reporters who wanted clarification on reports that he had been away in Rishikesh on August 10.

A health department source told The Telegraph that the medical college’s account had a balance of Rs 3.86 crore on August 9 and that the vendor has gone unpaid because he had “failed to oblige some senior members in the government”.

“No such business operates without kickbacks,” the source added. “But the principal had recently received orders from Lucknow to stop the payment.”

Where are we headed?

Three weeks after celebrating the birth of their newborn child, Shailendra Gupta and his wife Laxmi were mourning for his death.

The baby was having breathing trouble so the couple rushed him to BRD medical college on the intervening night of August 9-10. But instead of putting their child on oxygen supply, they were handed a small pump by the hospital staff to manually pump oxygen. For three and a half hours, Shailendra pumped oxygen for his baby. Later, his baby was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the next day, he died.

Shailendra’s son was one among the 23 children who died on August 10.

There were people who had come from hundreds of kilometres away to admit their wards in the government hospital. Little did they know that the ones responsible to safeguard the lives of our country’s future generations were busy burying their heads in corruption and incompetence.

There were parents who suspected that the deaths of their children were not immediately informed to them.

Month-old children have died in one of the worst tragedies in India while government officials still sit cosily on their posts.

The report by Gorakhpur district administration blamed Pushpa Sales, a private company, for cutting the oxygen supply. It then blamed BRD medical college principal R K Mishra for being absent on August 10 when 23 babies died. The report further blamed Satish Kumar, the head of the anaesthesia department and Gajanan Jaiswal, the chief pharmacist for not ensuring continuous oxygen flow.

CM Adityanath accused the hospital and the vendor completely for the death of more than 70 children and claimed that he was not aware of the mismanagement.

Firstly, his statement was completely false because he did know about the shortage in oxygen supply and the dues. He was present when Pushpa Sales sent a reminder letter of the dues.

And secondly, not knowing paints an equally bad picture of him. He is the Chief Minister of the state – a person who should at all costs be aware that the lives of more than 70 children are endangered because of a flaw in his administration. His saying that he wasn’t “aware” is no justification for his incompetence.

All the stakeholders collectively share blame for the deaths, with the highest onus lying with the government. Even then, no one from the government has been suspended or sacked from their posts for failing to oblige with their duties. Moreover, the UP government extended its support to its medical health minister Ashutosh Tandon, meanwhile, the doctor who did everything in his capacity to save the children’s lives was branded as a rapist on social media and removed from his post on August 13.

The truth remains that CM Adityanath and his ministers knew about the crisis at BRD medical college, did nothing about it and later avoided responsibility.

When evidence is out in the open about the UP government’s role in the death of more than 70 children, only one solution remains at hand – the ministers responsible should be relieved of their duties. In a sane democracy, the government would have fallen, but here we are in the middle of corruption and petty politics.