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Odisha CM under fire over hospital blaze, owner arrested

india Updated: Oct 20, 2016 18:19 IST
K Mohanty
K Mohanty
Hindustan Times
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Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik visits AIIMS to meet the victims of SUM hospital fire tragedy in Bhubaneswar.(PTI Photo)

The owner of an Odisha hospital, where 21 people died and more than 100 injured in a massive blaze, was arrested on Thursday amid growing outrage over flouted safety norms that likely increased the death toll.

Manoj Ranjan Nayak – who rose from a humble computer science teacher to a successful entrepreneur – turned himself in amid growing calls for the sacking of the health minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, a confidante of chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

Atanu is under pressure because of allegations – repeated by Union health minister JP Nadda on Wednesday – that SUM hospital in Bhubaneswar didn’t have fire safety clearances and violated guidelines that aggravated injuries and deaths during Monday’s fire.

Atanu is also said to have close ties with Manoj, whose meteoric rise is said to be because of his proximity to the ruling Biju Janata Dal.

“We have arrested him (Manoj) under sections 304, 308, 285 and 34 of Indian Penal Code and would forward him to a court in a few hours,” said Bhubaneswar police commissioner YB Khurania. Nayak is to be sent to jail as most of the sections under which he was arrested are non-bailable.

But opposition leaders say the blame for the state’s biggest hospital disaster should rest with the chief minister. They say the blaze occurred because of poor fire-safety guidelines and lax implementation – a responsibility of the fire department, which reports to the home ministry headed by Naveen.

The director general of fire services that inspected the hospital after the mishap found the premises deficient on several counts of fire safety precautions, including a lack of a sprinkler system, fire detection system, fire hydrant point and terrace water tank – all of which were recommended by the fire services wing in 2013.

“The CM has to answer what prevented him from taking action against the hospital for last three years,” said senior Congress leader Narasingha Mishra. Sources allege that despite the lack of a mandatory fire safety certificate, the hospital’s licence to operate under the Odisha Clincal Establishments (Control and Regulation) Act, 2012 was renewed in April for two years.

But the rot within the fire-safety system extends far beyond SUM hospital, experts say. Government data shows only four of the 572 registered private hospitals and nursing homes in Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Puri have mandatory fire safety certificates.

The opposition is also gunning for Naveen over his government’s failure in framing the rules of Odisha Fire Service Act, 23 years after the law was passed by his late father Biju Patnaik. The rules would help specify norms and empower fire service authorities to act against violators.

“The CM has a lot to answer why as home minister he did not take action against the hospital over fire safety violation. He should resign on moral grounds for the biggest hospital disaster of Odisha,” said Sameer Mohanty, a BJP spokesperson.