Bhubaneswar: The owner of Bhubaneswar's SUM Hospital, where 21 people died in a blaze on Monday, has been arrested.
Manoj Nayak, who is said to have close links with Odisha's ruling Biju Janata Dal and state health minister Atanu Sabyasachi, was taken into custody today after he surrendered at the Khandagiri Police Station.
The minister however refused to answer questions on the issue when confronted by reporters at the state guest house in Bhubaneswar after meeting with union ministers JP Nadda and Dharmendra Pradhan yesterday.
Mr Nadda had said the hospital had not followed safety norms. The culprits, he had said, will be punished.
"There has been a breach of safety measures that should have been taken care of," the minister said.
"There are issues that the health department has to look into. Fresh advisory will be issued to states in order to avoid such incident sin the future," he said.
RTI activist Ashok Nanda said the fire at the premium private hospital was a disaster waiting to happen.
"What's worse for Odisha is that only four of the 1700 odd hospitals in the state have statutory fire safety clearances according to an RTI reply," Mr Nanda told NDTV.
The Odisha government has ordered two inquiries and the hospital is also conducting an internal probe. The National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the state government today, demanding a report within six weeks.
On Tuesday, four people, including the hospital's medical superintendent, two electrical engineers and the fire safety officer were arrested. The arrests came after a preliminary inquiry accused the hospital authorities of negligence and culpable homicide.
Sources said the last fire safety audit at the hospital was conducted in 2013. But at the time, the changes suggested were not implemented.
The suggested changes included formulating an evacuation plan and a disaster response system, building a large overhead water tank, a fire escape stairwell outside the building and automatic sprinklers, and maintenance of fire hydrants.
The hospital claims all fire safety mechanisms were audited and the last check was conducted four weeks ago.
But the bigger allegation the hospital is facing is that at the time of the fire, when 500-odd patients were being evacuated, critical patients were taken off life support, which led to several deaths.
The hospital denies this charge vehemently.
Patients alleged that there were no announcements on the public address system when the fire broke out and the staff abandoned them. The hospital has denied that charge too.
"All the staff ran away. No one told us anything. We asked what happened and saw the fire so we also ran out with our patient. No one told us about fire exits. There were no announcements," Ashalata Ratra, a witness, said.
Professor Amit Banerjee, the Vice-Chancellor of Shiksha of Anushandhan University, which runs the hospital and medical college, said, "Standard evacuation procedure has been followed. There was a red alert, code red signal. All the doctors and nurses did not leave their positions. The hospital staff did not leave their positions."