Five newborns were burnt alive in a fire that broke out in the gynaecology ward of the government-run Rajindra Medical College & Hospital in Patiala in the wee hours of Saturday.
The babies, born between 30 minutes and two hours before the fire, were kept in incubators. There were 10 babies in the ward at the time. It is suspected that a short circuit caused the fire.
Sources said a lamp in the phototherapy cubicle — meant for the treatment of jaundice — burst into flames at 3.50 am. No attendant or nursing staff was at hand. The babies — three boys and two girls — were charred before help could arrive. They were fed barely 20 minutes before the tragedy.
The toll could have been higher but for Surjit Singh, a villager who was attending to his mother at the same hospital. “I was passing by the ward when I heard a blast. I peeped into the room and saw the upholstery in flames… in no time, the whole room was on fire.”
Singh wrapped a wet blanket around himself and jumped into the flames. He brought out three newborns. Another person evacuated two others.
Five babies kept in an adjoining cubicle also suffered burns but were evacuated. Of these, one suffered severe burns to the right side of her body, but doctors said she is out of danger. A second baby has been shifted to PGI, Chandigarh, with 40 per cent burns.
Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal has instituted a judicial probe and Justice K.C. Gupta, a retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, has already initiated a probe.
The chief minister also suspended the principal of the medical college, Dr Jaswinder Pal Kaur Shergill, a government spokesman said. The hospital is attached to the medical college.