- Yogi Adityanath said he has ordered an inquiry and promised strict action
- Raids were conducted at a firm that supplied oxygen to the hospital
- Government denies deaths due to lack of oxygen
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"Deaths due to oxygen shortage would mean a despicable incident," said the Chief Minister, adding the role of the oxygen vendor will be probed. Raids were conducted at a Lucknow-based firm that had stopped supply of oxygen to the hospital because previous bills were not paid.
Mr Adityanath also said the chief of the hospital, Baba Raghav Das Medical College, has been suspended. The government said funds for the oxygen supplier were not released till August 11 even though they had been cleared on August 5. Principal Rajeev Misra, however, denied he was at fault, blaming red tape for the delay.
Earlier in the day, speaking at a function in Allahabad, the Chief Minister who has represented Gorakhpur in Parliament for nearly 20 years, said dirty surroundings and open defecation were responsible for the deaths. "Since 1978, children in eastern UP are dying due to lack of sanitation and defecating in the open," he said.
The government, meanwhile, admitted that for two hours on Thursday night, the hospital, with over 800 beds, was operating without any supply of oxygen. However, officials said no deaths had occurred during the time.
On Thursday morning, employees who handle the storage plant at the hospital from where oxygen is piped, wrote to the Chief Medical Officer informing him that the stock of liquid oxygen was limited and would last only till that evening. At around 11:30 pm on Thursday, the oxygen ran out. Fresh cylinders were brought in at around 1:30 am on Friday.
Twenty-three children died at the hospital on Thursday, 14 of them in the neo-natal ward, where premature newborns are kept. While nine children died the previous day when the Chief Minister visited, nine died on Monday, 12 on Tuesday and seven on Friday, according to the hospital.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and others visited the hospital and demanded the resignation of state Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh. "Heart-wrenching incident. Saddened by children's death. This happened due to state government's carelessness," Mr Azad told reporters outside the hospital.
"Families of the dead were sent off with the bodies, they did not even do autopsies... extremely unfortunate," former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said in a tweet.
"I am pained beyond words," said Congress President Sonia Gandhi, while her son and deputy Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "Deeply pained. My thoughts are with the families of the victims. BJP government is responsible and should punish the negligent who caused this tragedy."
On his visit earlier this week, Chief Minister Adityanath had inaugurated a 10-bed Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and a six-bed Critical Care Unit (CCU) facility at the hospital, which gets a large number of encephalitis patients. Thousands have died of encephalitis in Gorakhpur since the first case was discovered in the 1970s.