Gorakhpur tragedy: A saga of negligence, cover-ups, kickbacks

The staff members tried to suppress the fact and did not bring the deaths to the notice of their seniors.

lucknow Updated: Aug 17, 2017 19:58 IST
Rajesh K Singh/Gaurav Saigal/Abdul Jadid
Rajesh K Singh/Gaurav Saigal/Abdul Jadid
Hindustan Times, Lucknow/Gorakhpur
CM Yogi Adityanath,Gorakhpur,Oxygen supplier
Patients were forced to share beds. In a 100-bed ward, 200 patients were admitted. (Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)

At the time when chief minister Yogi Adityanath was holding a meeting to review medical facilities at the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur on August 9, nine children admitted to the encephalitis ward lost their battle for survival.

Timeline: Gorakhpur Tragedy
  • July 9 - CM Yogi Adityanath visits Gorakhpur, holds review meeting for BRD Medical College. Orders payment of salary arrears.
  • July 18 - Oxygen supplier Pushpa Sales writes to BRD Medical College to clear dues.
  • July 30 - Pushpa Sales sends legal notice to medical college authorities.
  • August 1 - Pushpa Sales writes to BRD Medical College to clear dues. Threatens discontinuation of oxygen supply.
  • August 5 - Money received in the account of director-general, medical education
  • August 07 - Money transferred to the principal’s account.
  • August 8 - Pushpa Sales again writes to the medical college.
  • August 9 – CM Yogi Adityanath holds review meeting at the medical college hospital. The principal submits a proposal of Rs 11 crore for improving conditions and procurement of equipment and medicines.
  • August 10 – Children’s death reported as oxygen level falls.
  • August 11 - Deaths toll of 33 raises alarm. Oxygen supplier receives money.
  • August 12 - Health minister Siddharth Nath Singh and medical education minister Ashutosh Tandon visit BRD Medical College. MoS, health, Anupriya Patel also visits the hospital. Government suspends principal and orders a probe. Liquid oxygen tank reaches medical college.
  • August 13 - CM Yogi Adityanath and union minister for health and family welfare JP Nadda visit Gorakhpur. Medical research centre worth Rs 85 crore sanctioned.
  • August 14 - Former CM Akhilesh Yadav visits bereaved families.
  • August 15 – Director-general, medical education, visits Gorakhpur. More deaths.
  • August 16 - Health minister Siddharth Nath Singh says there was corruption at BRD Medical College.

The CM had visited the ward before the meeting but could not gauge the crisis. Patients and their attendants also kept quiet out of fear.

Top officials of the health and medical education department attending the meeting were also oblivious to the deaths. The staff members tried to suppress the fact and did not bring the deaths to the notice of their seniors.

Patients were forced to share beds. In a 100-bed ward, 200 patients were admitted.

Shailendra Gupta of Jainpur village, whose son was admitted to the ward, told HT that the children were in distress due to disruption in oxygen supply.

“They gasped for breath felt uneasy. When we drew the attention of the doctors, they gave us artificial manual breathing unit (AMBU) bags and asked us to keep pressing the bag to supply oxygen to children,” Gupta said.

“There were five children on the bed with my son. Two of children died after some time. The doctors called in their parents and asked them to quietly take away the bodies from the rear door of the ward as the CM was holding a meeting. The ward boy wrapped the bodies in bed sheets and told the attendants to move out without making any noise. The medical officers did not want any nuisance in the CM’s presence,” he said.

“I kept pumping the AMBU bag to save my child’s life after the doctors expressed helplessness in restoring oxygen supply. On August 10, my son passed away,” Gupta said.

Radheyshyam, a resident of Khorabar area whose daughter was admitted to the ward, said the oxygen supply was completely disrupted on the night of August 10.

“Around two dozen children, including my daughter, died within hours,” he said.

After the meeting, the then principal of BRD Medical College Rajiv Mishra handed over a memorandum to the CM demanding Rs 11 crore for the purchase of medicines, equipment and payment of arrears to the employees.

The CM was not informed about the deaths and oxygen crisis.

Locals, however, feel that the five-time MP from Gorakhpur who has raised the issue in the Lok Sabha several times, must have known what ails the medical college.

The CM has himself said he has fought from the parliament to the streets to get better facilities at BRD Medical College.

Ironically, only when the media highlighted the death of 33 children due to oxygen crisis that the state government was shaken from slumber.

THE COVER-UP

But the question arises – Why did the BRD Medical College administration cover up the deaths and oxygen crisis?

A senior medical officer at the medical college said on condition of anonymity that the oxygen crisis hit the hospital after the main oxygen supplier Pushpa Sales stopped supply on August 9 in protest against the failure of BRD Medical College to clear the dues of Rs 69 lakh.

“The company had sent several reminders besides serving legal notice to the college. It had also threatened to stop the supply of oxygen. Unfortunately, the college administration did not take his threat seriously,” he said.

Even as the state government had released Rs 4 crore for the medical college on August 5 after the passing of annual budget in July-end, the arrear of the company was not cleared by the college administration.

An official at the medical education department said the payment to the company was delayed as the officers fought for their share in kickbacks.

Admitting corruption in the supply of oxygen, UP health minister Siddharth Nath Singh on Wednesday said there was corruption in the payment for oxygen cylinders and supply of liquid oxygen at BRD Medical College.

“The principal of the medical college has been suspended on corruption charges and the state government has ordered a probe into the kickback and irregularities in the procurement of oxygen cylinders,” he said.

Singh said liquid oxygen was earlier supplied to the medical college by a company INOX and it would be probed as to how Pushpa Sales entered the supply chain in 2014.

Earlier, INOX used to supply oxygen directly to the medical college. In 2014, the medical college authorities engaged Pushpa Sales which started supplying oxygen by procuring it from INOX.

OXYGEN SUPPLY ISSUE

The officials of Pushpa Sales, the firm supplying liquid oxygen, had issued an ultimatum on dues to the hospital authorities on August 1.

The letter to the principal of the BRD Medical College demanded the payment of pending dues to the tune of Rs 63,65,702 (as on August 1) and said it would not be possible for it to continue supply without payment.

The company had decided to supply the stock for the next 4-5 days on the day the letter was handed over to the medical college authorities but had warned that the supply might get hampered if the dues were not cleared.

“INOX, the firm from which we are taking oxygen supply, has expressed inability to continue supply to us in future in case we fail to make payments to them,” said the letter from Dipankar Sharma of the Pushpa Sales to principal, BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur.

The letter also mentioned that payments were due despite several reminders in the past and the responsibility of any consequence would be that of the college. Pushpa Sales sent the last letter to the medical college on August 8, a day before the incident.

Pushpa Sales had also served a legal notice to the medical college on July 30.

The company had been repeatedly writing to the medical college authorities on since February this year.

On July 18, the letter said the outstanding dues were Rs 57,44,336 despite a part payment in May. The letter on August 1 mentioned dues of Rs 63,65,702 and finally the figure stood at Rs 68,58,596 on August 8.

Director-general, medical education, Dr KK Gupta, who is in Gorakhpur to probe into the incident, had said that the payment to Pushpa Sales was released on August 5.

Suspended principal of the medical college Prof Rajeev Mishra claimed he sent three reminders to the directorate of medical education since June for the release of the arrear of the company but the officials concerned did not pay heed to it.

Gorakhpur-based Modi Pharma, which supplied oxygen to the medical college since 2002 till March this year, claimed its service was abruptly discontinued and the medical college administration did not clear its dues of Rs 20 lakh.

Talking to HT, owner of the company Praveen Modi said the fight for kickbacks among officers was the reason his firm was asked to discontinue supply.

“Without floating a tender, the medical college administration asked another company to supply oxygen cylinders,” he alleged.

Newly-appointed principal of BRD Medical College Dr PK Singh refused to comment on Modi’s allegation.

MEDICAL COLLEGE FACED FINANCIAL CRUNCH

On his visit to Gorakhpur on Sunday, chief minister Yogi Adityanath said the issue of the children’s death was close to his heart. “After taking over as CM, I have visited the BRD Medical College four times to take stock of the situation,” he said.

The suspended principal of the medical college told HT that Rs 37 crore was sought from the government in March for the improvement of health facilities which included maintenance of encephalitis wards, ICU, medicine, ventilators, laboratory and human resource. The medical college was yet to receive funds, he added.

The officials of National Health Mission department said the proposal was sent to the ministry of health and family welfare for approval. The delay in the release of the funds hit the working in the wards and even the salaries of the employees were not cleared.

When the employees threatened to launch an agitation, their salaries and arrears were cleared.

Around 3,000 encephalitis patients from seven districts of east UP as well as Bihar and Nepal visit BRD Medical College for treatment. The college requires annual allocation of Rs 8 crore for oxygen, medicine and human resource and other health facilities at the encephalitis ward but gets merely Rs 2 crore.

The physical, medicine and rehabilitation department set up to look after the children disabled with encephalitis was closed for several months due to non-payment of salary.

In February 2016, union health minister JP Nadda visited the medical college to review health facilities. Minister of state, health and family welfare, Anupriya Patel also visited the college in August 2016.

The college authorities and patients drew the ministers’ attention to the problems being faced by them but got only assurances in return.

“About 9,000 patients visit BRD Medical College daily for treatment. Another 950 patients are admitted to the wards of the hospital. I have urged the central government for assistance to upgrade the health facilities and establish a National Virology Research Centre here,” the CM said on Sunday.

First Published: Aug 17, 2017 17:32 IST