Lucknow, Aug. 11: Thirty children have died at a hospital in Yogi Adityanath's parliamentary constituency within two days of a review meeting chaired there by the chief minister, with the administration acknowledging a halted oxygen supply but denying it caused the deaths.
Sources at Baba Raghav Das Medical College, Gorakhpur, said the vendor had stopped the oxygen supply on Wednesday evening - shortly after Adityanath's afternoon visit to inaugurate a new ICU - because of unpaid bills of Rs 70 lakh.
One hospital source claimed that most of the doctors had left "to escape blame" as soon as the oxygen supply was stopped, but this could not be corroborated.
Hospital authorities have not explained the cause of the deaths. A state government release tonight claimed "no patient has died at the Gorakhpur medical college because of a shortage of oxygen", although district magistrate Rajiv Rautela had just hours earlier promised to "probe this claim by the hospital".
Asked why the supplier had not been paid, medical college sources told this newspaper that even the hospital's doctors and paramedical staff had not been paid since February because of an unexplained funds shortage.
"The chief minister was informed about this on Wednesday; he promised a solution soon," a source said.
District magistrate Rautela told a news conference that 14 children had died in the neonatal unit, three in the acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) ward and six in the paediatric ward on Thursday. Today, three died in the neonatal unit, two in the AES ward and two in the paediatric ward.
"A magisterial inquiry has been ordered to ascertain why the vendor was not paid and why the oxygen supply was disrupted. The report will be before me within 24 hours," he said.
Rautela said the hospital had told him they had paid Rs 35 lakh out of Pushpa Sales Pvt Ltd's Rs 70 lakh dues, and "assured me they could make alternative arrangements for oxygen".
He added that an executive of Pushpa Sales had, however, told him in Lucknow that the money was yet to reach the company account. "I requested him to restore supply and promised the payment would be made soon."
Pushpa Sales proprietor Maneesh Bhandari did not answer calls. A letter the company had written to the medical college's principal, Rajiv Mishra, on July 18 this year says: "We have informed you many times through letters and on the phone that the payment... has been due for the last six months."
The letter, of which this newspaper has a copy, says Rs 19.8 lakh was paid on May 11, with a promise to pay the then remaining dues of Rs 20 lakh soon "but you have not made the payment till date".
It puts "the present dues" at Rs 57.4 lakh, which had presumably grown to Rs 70 lakh by Wednesday.
"The INOX Company (the manufacturer of the oxygen cylinders) has informed us... (it) will not resume the supply of gas before we pay them Rs 40 lakh," says the letter, signed by one Dipankar Sharma on Pushpa Sales' behalf.
Rautela said the medical college authorities had last night hunted for oxygen cylinders from various sources with police help.
"This morning, I made arrangements at Sant Kabir Nagar (60km from Gorakhpur) to supply oxygen cylinders to the medical college. We now have 50 cylinders there and 150 more are on the way."