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August 10, 2017 caught doctors at Nehru Hospital in BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, with folded hands unable to do anything as 60 patients including 30 children lost their lives one after the other. Children continued to lose their lives on subsequent days as well. Majority of those who succumbed were those admitted to the neonatology and encephalitis ward. The BRD Medical College at Gorakhpur, the constituency of the Chief Minister Yogi Adithyanath is a centre known for expertise in treating Japanese Encephalitis. The reason cited for these unfortunate deaths is ‘oxygen supplies having run out’.

Apparently, the hospital owed an accumulated debt through nonpayment to the tune of   Rs.68 lakhs, to the agency, Pushpa Sales that supplied oxygen to the hospital. The supplier had reportedly written to BRD Authorities on August 1 and 8 asking for clearance of the pending bills. The hospital authorities reportedly made an initial payment of Rs. 21 lakhs to the agency that too, only a day after 23 children died. The Chief Minister and those in power, expectedly rubbished the ‘oxygen supplies having run out’ theory to have caused the death of infants, which is continuing at the time of writing. But what gives credence to the oxygen theory is a report that three operators of the hospital’s central oxygen plant had warned the Head of Pediatrics Department through a letter about the falling oxygen pressure, well in advance.

Something could have been done at this point and a national mishap of this dimension averted.

As a face-saving tactic usually resorted to by typical politicians, as only they possibly can, a convenient sacrificial lamb was identified and done away with. The principal of the Medical College, who was fired, turned out to be that unfortunate scapegoat.

As ‘investigations’ are proceeding to unearth the real cause behind the unparalleled human tragedy, the government has poopooed along predictable lines, the ‘fall in oxygen supplies’ theory. Encephalitis was also blamed for the mass casualty within a hospital specializing in treating the dreaded disease. This is a distinct possibility.   Was fall in oxygen supplies really the cause?

  • If so, why was the neonatology and encephalitis ward alone affected? Adults too who are oxygen-dependant would succumb if they are denied the precious gas. No other ward of the hospital was reportedly affected.
  • In the presence of high-end ventilators equipped with alarms, drop in oxygen pressures would surely have been alerted through alarms, much before deaths really did happen. Alarms go off much before a critical level of the gas is reached, giving enough time for doctors and other staff to act. To look for life-saving alternatives. The number of infants who perished did so over 2-3 days. The Hospital authorities could have easily sought governmental intervention in an emergency of a huge proportion as this one. After all, the government machinery which could crack down on ‘unlicensed outlets’ selling beef the very next day of assuming office, logically ought to have had enough teeth to see that oxygen is supplied to the hospital on a war footing. It is hard to believe the helplessness of the governing machinery in a situation, (which is akin to a national crisis) such as this. It could have mobilized funds to pay Pushpa Sales and a crisis averted, instead of looking for scapegoats, indulging in the favorite blame game, and denial of its failure as an efficient and an effective government. This incident is undoubtedly the biggest crisis the Yogi Adithyanath government has had to face since assuming office.

Yogi Adithyanath by now would have realized, as ordinary citizens in this country believe and hope, that governance is not all about tending to cows and addressing their welfare in the innumerable gaushalas that dot the entire state of Uttar Pradesh. He is also responsible for an impoverished state’s health care as well.  He has a lot of uncomfortable questions to answer.

  • Was it proper for Pushpa sales to indulge in murder by withholding supply of the lifesaving gas, even in case nonpayment of dues, especially when repayment was done partially, as lives were at stake? This is surely not some cable TV service provider having suspended its service on nonpayment of dues!
  • Why wasn’t oxygen supply restored to the hospital somehow to prevent more deaths, as deaths continued over days, and not on a single day?
  • Why didn’t more heads roll, especially those involved in the administration of the medical college, instead of sacking the Principal alone?
  • Why was only one particular ward affected? This is not to say that other wards too ought to have been affected to create a larger crisis!

The political masters of the chief minister- the BJP and the ruling NDA must also view this shameful incident with all seriousness that it merits. Indians are not asking for President’s rule to be clamped on an errant state on account of this unmitigated disaster, but to look into this unforgivable and unforgettable tragedy through an unbiased investigation, and people responsible punished without compromise, thus ensuring a murderous incident of a macabre dimension is not repeated.

Adithyanath need to look beyond the gaushalas in a state yearning for development.

This tragedy showcases the lackadaisical approach of India towards a very important aspect of her nationhood- the health of her citizens. But with the governing apparatus in the state and centre more interested in the wellbeing of cows, and indulging in financial jugglery through demonetization and GST, (just for the sake of ‘having done something’, with the general elections of 2019 already having started to arm-twist the incumbent to retain power through every possible means), both of which having taken the confused citizenry for a rickety ride, can we logically expect a credible outcome to this murder in our wildest dreams?