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Delhi hospital without licence, eligible doctors

May 27, 2024 06:20 AM IST

A preliminary probe pointed to several mistakes, such as an illegal expansion of beds inside hospital, improper use of oxygen cylinders, and lack of adequate fire exits

The list of lapses and violations that marred Baby Care New Born Hospital, Vivek Vihar, east Delhi, ran long, pointing at the administrative apathy and criminal negligence in ignoring basic safety norms that resulted in the deaths of six babies on Saturday night.

People gather in front of the hospital in Vivek Vihar where six infants died after a fire broke out on Saturday night. (Arvind Yadav/HT Photo)
People gather in front of the hospital in Vivek Vihar where six infants died after a fire broke out on Saturday night. (Arvind Yadav/HT Photo)

A preliminary probe carried out by the Delhi Fire Services pointed to a raft of costly mistakes, such as an illegal expansion of beds inside the hospital, improper use of oxygen cylinders, and a lack of adequate fire exits despite being located in a congested neighbourhood.

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Atul Garg, chief of Delhi Fire Services, said the fire may have started due to an electrical fault. “We are investigating whether it started from the generator or the electric pole outside the building. In any case, the wires were dangerously close to the building. The fire was fuelled by oxygen cylinder that were all kept close to each other and exploded. We cannot confirm things because all the medical staff fled after the incident. Only they can say what happened,” Garg told HT.

Some locals alleged that the building owner, Dr Naveen Khichi, dealt in oxygen cylinders illegally, which could have meant that there was illegal stockpiles.

Oxygen as a gas is highly flammable and pressurised cylinders are prone to exploding.

Yogesh Goyal, an area resident, said complaints regarding the illegal refilling of cylinders at night were made in the past.

Police said they looked into these allegations but have not found anything so far.

Deputy commissioner of police (Shahdara) Surender Chaudhary said: “Most likely, there was no illegal trading or refilling of oxygen cylinders. The hospital staffers are involved in wrongdoings but these allegations are untrue”.

The DCP, however, listed out a litany of violations, including employing people with Ayurvedic medicine degrees as doctors. “The wrongdoings include employing doctors who cannot treat newborns. Dr Khichi is a paediatrician but he was running the hospital with doctors who are not qualified. His wife, Dr Jagriti, also works at the hospital and is a dentist. There is no fire extinguisher installed in the hospital for emergencies. There is no emergency exit either,” he added.

Police said the hospital had a license from the health department which expired on March 31. However, the license was only for five beds but 13 were inside the two-storey facility at the time of the blaze.

Police also found over 32 oxygen cylinders while the permissible limit was only between 15-20. “To gain more money, the doctor put in more beds, electric equipment and oxygen cylinders… which are all in violation of law,” said an officer who asked not to be named.

According to locals and DFS, the building was a businessman’s residence earlier and was converted into a commercial building after a city bank auctioned off the house around three years back.

Cramped neighbourhood

The hospital, facing the main road in Vivek Vihar, is cramped between houses and commercial buildings housing banks, boutiques and shops.

“It was difficult to rescue the children because there was no access point,” said Vivek Kumar, a resident of the area.

Locals used a narrow service lane behind the buildings to rescue 12 children, of whom five survived. A sixth infant had died prior to the fire.

“The wires are a major issue. We knew this would lead to a major tragedy. Never expected that babies would die… We approached the police and MCD multiple times over the encroachment but nothing happened,” said Fayyaz Alam, another resident.

One of the first responders, fire officer Deepak Hooda, said the babies were on the first floor and there was no wall or partition. “The ground floor was full of cylinders and equipment. The owners had put aluminium sheets to separate the beds. There was no fire safety equipment. We could only see a small window from behind which was then broken to get inside and save the babies. The second floor had a shed and there was some more medical equipment there,” said Hooda.

Violation of municipal bylaws

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi, in an official statement, said that under the Master Plan of Delhi 2021, “other activities”, including nursing, and hospital activities, are allowed under Chapter 15 of the mixed land use regulations.

“...In a case titled as “Delhi Medical Association V/o UOI.”, there are directions of the High Court of Delhi not to take any coercive action against such activities i.e. nursing/hospital activities,” the statement said.

The civic body has said the site was inspected. The building was constructed in 2001-02 and the hospital has been in operation since 2015. “This building was constructed under the sanctioned building plans on August 2, 2000,” MCD said.

However, a senior MCD official on condition of anonymity, said that the owners of the building covered the balcony and open areas with an iron frame covered with chrome panels. “This is a clear violation of building bylaws and the open areas cannot be covered to extend the building,” the official said.

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