The Gorakhpur incident was indeed a horrific one which jolted the entire nation. The devastation wrought by the loss of over 70 children’s lives in just five days will be hard to forget, especially for those who lost their dear ones.
After the incident appeared in the limelight, the emerging loopholes were shocking and embarrassing. Some media investigations revealed that the incident could have been prevented but it sadly wasn’t due to irresponsible behaviour and mismanagement.
The blame game soon started and the principal and the doctor were made scapegoats to be sacrificed. Dr Kafeel Khan (head of the encephalitis ward and an assistant professor at the Pediatric department) was removed from his position and Dr Rajeev Mishra (then principal of the state-run Baba Raghav Das Medical College and Hospital in Gorakhpur) was suspended.
However, a fact finding committee of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) gave a clean chit to Dr Rajeev Mishra and Dr Kafeel Khan as far as medical negligence was concerned.
The Times of India reported, “The committee has recommended that administrative inquiry and action could be initiated against the two doctors. The inquiry has also revealed that oxygen supply was interrupted for a short time on the night of August 10, as the supplier had failed to replenish stocks due to non-payment of his dues for the last 5-6 months. The report also reveals that the hospital was handling cases of patients needing oxygen supply more than its capacity.”
The main culprits – those who had delayed in making payments to the oxygen supplier after consistent reminders – were seeking to escape in this entire episode. The so-called responsible and elected authorities exhibited extreme of callousness.
This is evident from the fact that despite repeated reminders by the oxygen suppliers to clear the money that was due, and despite the college administration reaching out to the state government, the funds were never released. This neglect and lack of response ultimately took the lives of these children.
However, the UP government denied the allegations of delaying the funds to the medical college.
“Health Minister Sidhartha Nath Singh said the government had released funds on August 5, but Mishra cleared the payment on August 11, after the deaths of at least 60 children over five days this month,” The Indian Express reported.
The principal, who was accused of receiving the payment on time but deliberately delaying its release to the oxygen supplier, blamed the delay on bureaucratic procedures and the chief minister’s visit.
According to a report on Scroll, “Mishra claimed that he had written at least three or four letters to the state medical education department in July, asking for the release of about ₹2 crore allocated to the college in the state budget. The funds were released on August 5, Saturday.”
In the report by Scroll, Mishra further explains the reasons behind the delay in payment to the supplier.
“The process of paying a bill involves clearance from the treasury department, said Mishra. The college sends a bill voucher to the treasury, which is verified by officials, who send back a token. The college sent the voucher on August 7. ‘On August 8, the token from the treasury was released,’ he said.
“But, on August 9, Chief Minister Adityanath came on a visit to the hospital, which kept the hospital administration busy, claimed the former principal. It was only on August 10 that the hospital could send the token to the bank for the transfer of Rs 52 lakh to Pushpa Sales’ account. ‘We do not do a direct bank transfer via RTGS [real time gross settlement],’ said Mishra. He explained that because Pushpa Sales and the hospital have accounts in different banks, the inter-bank transfer took a day.
“Mishra left for Rishikesh on the night of August 9 as a member of a technical committee overseeing the establishment of a laboratory. In the afternoon of August 10, he got a call from Pushpa Sales that the next truck with the liquid oxygen would not be sent.
“‘He [the owner of Pushpa Sales] has been sending letters threatening to cut the oxygen supply so many times,’ said Mishra. ‘Payments have been delayed, but we have always paid him. I explained to him that it was the bank’s delay and that he would get his payment.’
“Mishra said the hospital did not expect the company to cut off supplies.”
To avoid having to take responsibility for the deaths of over 70 children, the BJP came to the support of the Uttar Pradesh government. BJP national president Amit Shah said that events similar to the Gorakhpur tragedy have happened before.
Why did the UP government wait (as principal Mishra says) until July to release the funds to the hospital? The tragedy which took the lives of over 70 children could have been avoided if the funds had been released on time.
This particular incident also highlights the inept management of the concerned agencies – a government-run hospital relying on a single oxygen supplier, who, just for the sake of money, took away the right to breathe for innocent children. The government should take lessons from a blunder of this magnitude. Unfortunately, they are busy playing blame games and taunting each other.