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Oxygen question chokes

Yogi close to tears at hospital, says no one can understand agony more than him

By Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow
  • Published 14.08.17
A child sleeps on the floor at the entrance to the intensive care unit at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital in Gorakhpur on Sunday. (Reuters)

Lucknow, Aug. 13: Yogi Adityanath had a Narendra Modi moment today, wiping tears as he spoke to patients' families at the Gorakhpur medical college where 30 children had died between Thursday and Friday after a halt in oxygen supply.

The chief minister then held a tearful news conference at the institute, where he looked close to breaking down as he stressed his love of children while evading the question why the oxygen vendor hadn't been paid on time.

He continued to insist that lack of oxygen hadn't caused the deaths at Baba Raghav Das Medical College.

Asked why the payment to the gas supplier was delayed, Adityanath merely underscored how "sensitive" he was to the medical college's problems and stressed that he had ordered an inquiry. He promised exemplary punishment for those found guilty.

"I visited the hospital for the fourth time today after becoming chief minister (in March). I have been fighting for encephalitis patients since 1996," Adityanath said. "Who can be more sensitive to this issue (than me)? ...No one can understand the pain and agony more than me."

Adityanath had held a review meeting there on Wednesday afternoon hours before the vendor stopped the oxygen supply over unpaid bills.

He added: "The Prime Minister too is concerned. He has assured me every support. We should all fight against the problems together instead of doing politics."

Yesterday, the chief minister had reeled out the past few years' death figures at the hospital, arguing that deaths from encephalitis - endemic to eastern Uttar Pradesh - were hardly uncommon there. Annual death figures, however, tend to average out brief spikes in casualties such as the one witnessed over a couple of days last week.

Adityanath asked journalists to visit the wards to see for themselves if treatment (" upchar") or massacre ("narsanhar") was taking place there - a reference to his party colleague and MP Sakshi Maharaj's criticism yesterday.

(Late tonight, news agency Reuters filed the photograph on the right that shows flies crawling over a child at the hospital.)

Adityanath's demeanour revived memories of January 22 last year when Prime Minister Modi, addressing the convocation at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow, expressed sorrow at the way Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula had been "driven to suicide" at Hyderabad University.

Modi's voice had choked several times as he described Vemula - an Ambedkarite allegedly targeted by his university at the Centre's prodding - as a son of "Ma Bharati" and said he could feel the pain of his parents.

Over half-a-dozen students had shouted "Go back, Modi" and "Modi murdabad" in the hall.

Adityanath too got a taste of popular anger: as he travelled from the hospital to the Gorakhnath Math, which he heads, a dozen-odd people of unclear political affiliation waved black flags on the roadside, chanting: "Go back Yogi."

The chief minister's visit of the wards, however, had been sanitised with the patients' families, media and even the attendants kept away, amid allegations that many of them wanted to complain to him about the treatment standards.

Adityanath arrived at the hospital with Union health minister J.P. Nadda around noon amid tight security. He first spoke to an apparently handpicked group of family members of the patients currently admitted there before heading to the wards. Nadda announced plans for a Rs 85-crore regional medical centre in Gorakhpur to research ailments that afflict children.

Parents of the children who had died during last week's crisis were not present.

A father who had lost his son to encephalitis at the hospital complained he hadn't been allowed to meet Adityanath.

"Some attendants, who were dissatisfied with the treatment being offered to patients, too wanted to meet the chief minister. A scuffle broke out between them and the police, causing a glass window to break at the ICU," he told reporters. "I too wanted to meet him because my four-year-old son had died but policemen made sure that nobody could reach him."

The government had yesterday blamed the delay on the medical college's principal, Rajiv Mishra, and suspended him, and later accepted his resignation.

The Indian Medical Association today demanded the revocation of Mishra's suspension, PTI reported. The IMA said payments in healthcare settings, especially in critical areas, should be made in time, and preferably in advance.