Eleven women have died and dozens more are in a critical condition after a government-run sterilisation programme in Chhattisgarh designed to control the country's billion-plus population went wrong, officials said on Tuesday.
More than 50 women are seriously ill after suffering complications from the surgery in Bilaspur district over the weekend, authorities in Chhattisgarh said.
"Reports of a drop in pulse, vomiting and other ailments started pouring in on Monday from the women who underwent surgery," said Sonmani Borah, the commissioner for Bilaspur district.
They were among 83 women who had undergone laparoscopic sterilisation as part of an annual family planning camp on Saturday. They were sterilised in the operation theatre of a private hospital, which was not yet fully functional. The operation theatre had not been used for the past four months.
The women had undergone surgery in just five hours at the camp in Takhatpur area of Bilaspur. After the women started complaining of severe pain, they were referred to the Bilaspur district hospital.
Health officials denied any negligence, but some said too many surgeries were perfomed in one day to meet targets.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh suspended four top health officials over the deaths and a police complaint was lodged against the surgeon who performed the operations.
"It's a very unfortunate incident. Prime facie it appears that incident occurred due to negligence (by doctors). A detailed enquiry will be conducted into it keeping in view all the angles, including the quality of the medicines at the camp, standard of the surgery, post operatives measures and others," Singh said.
The Union ministry of Health & Family Welfare has set up a committee to probe the sterilisation deaths.
“The ministry has asked for report and constituted a committee to investigate the matter. Action will be taken after the report is submitted,” said Shripad Naik, minister of state for health.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern over the deaths and asked the chief minister to ensure a thorough investigation and take action.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had also demanded “strict action” against the guilty.
State governments frequently organise mass sterilisation camps under a national programme whereby women are given Rs 1,000 rupees and men Rs 2,000 as an incentive to undergo the procedure.
Angry residents took to the streets of Bilaspur where many of the women have been hospitalised demanding action against those responsible. The opposition Congress party held massive demonstration in the state capital and Bilaspur town demanding the resignation of the health minister and called for Chhattisgarh bandh on Wednesday.
The medical superintendent of the main hospital in Bilaspur said it was difficult to say what could have caused the deaths. Bilaspur is the home district of the Chhattisgarh health minister
"It would be premature to speculate on the reasons for this tragedy. We are giving priority to treating the women admitted here as their blood pressure has gone down," Ramnesh Murthy told reporters late Monday. "We will know the reasons only once the post-mortem is completed."
The deaths bring back into focus the long-running, contentious state-run programme that contributed to the defeat of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1977. Her worst defeats came in areas where the family planning campaign was robustly implemented by her son, Sanjay.
Deaths due to sterilisation are not a new problem in India, where some 4.6 million sterilisations were performed in 2013-14, government figures show. Many die as a result of botched surgeries, while others are left bleeding and in agony.
Government figures show 1,434 sterilisation deaths between 2003 and 2012, with 2009 being the worst year with a maximum of 247 deaths. On an average, 12 deaths occurred every month over the last 10 years.
(With agency inputs)