A top Uttar Pradesh government official is under fire for his "nobody can die of cold" remark over the deaths of 34 children in relief camps for riot victims in the state.
Principal secretary (home) Anil Kumar Gupta said that people cannot die of cold after a high-level committee constituted by the state government to look into the reported deaths submitted its report.
"Children have died of pneumonia, not of cold. Nobody can die of cold. If people died of cold, nobody would have been alive in Siberia," said Gupta.
Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav slammed the senior bureaucrats's comment saying that people should be cautious while facing the press.
"Those people who go before the press should be careful while selecting their words so that they don't hurt anyone," said Akhilesh.
The senior bureaucrat also faced the music from various political parties who were quick to react and condemn his statement.
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah posted his reaction on Twitter saying said that Gupta should be sent out in the cold with lesser clothes.
"Can't die of the cold"!!!! Send him out in a few less clothes & let's see if he isn't singing a different tune pretty damn quick," posted Abdullah.
Condemning the bureaucrat's comments, BJP said, "When the administration becomes insensitive, this is what then comes out."
"Extremely insensitive and irresponsible comment," said Ravi Shankar Prasad.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said that instead of accepting their fault and making a correction, the authorities in Uttar Pradesh were blaming others and making most insensitive comments.
Javadekar's colleague Rajiv Pratap Rudy said, "It is an insensitive statement, reflects mindset of Akhilesh government. I hold the UP government responsible for this entire situation."
Samajwadi Party's Kamal Faruqui asked Gupta to "spend a night with his family in the camps and he won't need to go Siberia."
"It's an extremely insensitive, factually incorrect statement. It is like adding salt to the wounds," said Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Brinda Karat.
The Congress party's Rita Bahuguna Joshi pulled Gupta for his insensitive statement and said that it "clearly speaks out of a callous attitude of the state government."
"The government should provide better facilities and care, instead of accusing them of being conspirators," said Bahuguna Joshi.
Another Congress leader Akhilesh Pratap Singh termed the statement as most irresponsible and insensitive.
Taking a dig a Gupta, he said, "If pneumonia does not happen due to cold, what is the reason. Tomorrow, they would say that a person was not killed after being hit by bullet, but due to excessive bleeding."
According to the committee, at least 34 children below the age of 12 years died in the relief camps for people displaced during the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts.
Only 12 children had died in the camps while remaining deaths occurred in private or government hospitals where the parents had taken their kids for treatment, the report said.
In its report, the committee did not fix responsibility of the deaths and ruled out medical negligence on part of the district administration in providing medical facilities to riot victims staying in the camps.
Only four children died of pneumonia while the remaining deaths were due to various diseases, the report had said.
During the probe, the committee also found that a large number of people from villages in Meerut and Baghpat districts were also staying in camps though no communal violence had been reported in these areas.
The panel, headed by divisional commissioner of Meerut Manjit Singh submitted its report to the state government on Wednesday.
The committee has urged the state government to improve the quality of service in camps and to motivate the refugees staying there to return to their respective villages.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had created controversy recently by saying that those living in the camps are not victims of violence but "conspirators and political activists" planted by opposition parties.
When asked to comment on Yadav's statement, Gupta quoted the committee as saying that "only displaced people are living in the camps".
(With agency inputs)