Kolkata: As the tragedy of infant deaths is slowly unfolding in West Bengal - an alarming 45 deaths in just one week - Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee continues to maintain a stoic silence. As parents scream negligence at two government-run hospitals in Kolkata and Burdwan where the babies died last week, Ms Banerjee, who also holds the Health portfolio, is yet to initiate action. Instead, the state government, shockingly, has handed a clean chit to the hospital authorities.
"I've totally given them a clean chit because I believe that this is not due to negligence of the authorities...Infant mortality rate in West Bengal is 33 per thousand live births which is much better than other states", Sudip Bandopadhyay, Minister of State, Health said.
But the junior minister's argument is cheap consolation for parents who have lost their new-borns. Even as he was busy inaugurating a brand new, 30-bed, Sick Newborn Care Unit at the B C Roy Hospital in Kolkata, the largest referral hospital for children in the state, the real picture isn't as rosy - overcrowded wards, no CT scan facilities as well as blood banks. The situation at the Burdwan Medical College is no different. Just last week, the hospital had 154 infants admitted to a 60-bed ward and that is not an exception but the rule.
"I am extremely ashamed, shocked and dismayed that my visit to this hospital has provided some detail because the media is not being allowed inside the wards", Smriti Irani, President, BJP Women's Wing said.
But it's not just the Opposition which is raising questions about the infant deaths. The state Governor too has expressed concern about the rise in the mortality figures.
"Of course it is a cause of concern. We need to look at these unfortunate tragedies. Much more that than the inquiry, we need to ensure that another child should not die", West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan said.
Hospital authorities, meanwhile, maintain that there is "nothing abnormal" or "unusual" in the deaths because the babies, they claim, were brought in an "extremely critical" condition. An argument that clearly isn't being bought by most as the chorus of criticism grows.