The principal of Baba Raghav Das Medical College was on Saturday suspended with ‘immediate effect’ even as the Uttar Pradesh government faced all-round flak for the death of 30 infants in the state-run hospital in Gorakhpur within a span of 48 hours since August 10.
UP Medical Education Minister Ashutosh Tandon said Rajiv Mishra was suspended for his ‘irresponsible act’ of allegedly delaying payment to the supplier of oxygen cylinders.
He said a probe, led by the state chief secretary, had been ordered.
Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya said stringent action would be taken against those found guilty.
"Whosoever is found guilty in the tragic and painful incident at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College will certainly face stringent action," he told reporters in Lucknow.
UP Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh told reporters, "The principal of the BRD Medical College has been suspended with immediate effect because of his laxity."
The state authorities went into a damage control mode after the opposition parties went hammer and tongs against the Yogi Adityanath government, terming the death of the infants as an outcome of the government's ‘gross criminal negligence’.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was constantly monitoring the situation in Gorakhpur and was in touch with the central and state authorities, his office in Delhi said.
Minister of State for Health Anupriya Patel and the Union health secretary would take stock of the situation in Gorakhpur, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said.
On his part, the chief minister said in a tweet, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought information about the Gorakhpur incident. On his directives, Union Health Minister J P Nadda and MoS Anupriya Patel also sought information of the incident."
According to the official Twitter account of the UP chief minister (@CMOfficeUP), Adityanath has directed that a detailed probe be conducted into the incident and strict action be ensured.
Tandon said on August 1, the dealer (oxygen supplier) had written a letter to the principal of the medical college demanding the payment of an outstanding amount.
"The letter was forwarded to the DG's (director general, medical education) office. On August 5, the payment was made to the medical college and the amount was credited to its account on August 7," he said.
Stating that the dealer claimed that his dues were cleared only on August 11, Tandon added, "Why was there a delay in the payment, why was the supply of oxygen stopped -- these aspects will be probed by the panel."
Gorakhpur District Magistrate Rajeev Rautela had said on Friday that at least 30 children died in the state-run medical college within 48 hours since August 10.
Health Minister Singh had said that according to reports from the paediatric department of the college, 60 children died due to various diseases since August 7.
Though the district magistrate had not given any reason for the deaths, an official in Delhi, who did not want to be identified, had said according to the Gorakhpur superintendent of police (SP), 21 children died due to a shortage of oxygen supply.
Singh and Tandon visited Gorakhpur to take stock of the situation.
Attacking the UP chief minister, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party demanded a high-level inquiry into the incident, which acquired a political hue within hours after the news broke.
Both the parties have decided to send teams to Gorakhpur to make an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
BSP chief Mayawati said, "As many as 60 children have died in a government hospital in Gorakhpur in the last six-seven days. This is an example of gross criminal negligence of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government."
Blaming the Adityanath government for the tragedy, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav claimed that a shortage of oxygen supply in the hospital led to it.
"The company supplying oxygen had informed the principal that it would stop the supply if payment was not made and the government must be aware that the deaths have been caused due to a shortage of oxygen," he said.
A six-member SP team, led by the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly Ram Govind Chaudhary, has been asked to submit its report to the party chief by August 13.
A three-member BSP team, led by its state unit chief Ram Achal Rajbhar, has been asked to go to Gorakhpur.
The Congress also held the UP government ‘responsible’ for the deaths and demanded the resignation of the chief minister and the health minister.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who visited the hospital, along with party colleagues, expressed deep anguish over the deaths.
"This incident took place due to the laxity on the part of the state government. We hold the state government responsible for it. The health minister and the health secretary must immediately tender resignation. The doctors should not be blamed for this," Azad said.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said the chief minister and the health minister should resign taking ‘moral responsibility’ for the deaths.
Taking a swipe at the UP health minister, the Congress leader tweeted, ‘UP Health Minister only seeks votes in Lal Bahadur Shastri ji's name - he doesn't follow Shastri ji's high morals in politics... Shastri ji resigned taking moral responsibility for railway accident, @sidharthnsingh holds on to power even after death of infants (sic).’
Singh is grandson of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
UP Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Masood Ahmed said it was a ‘matter of grave concern’ that the district administration and the hospital were ‘trying to hide their shortcomings’ and demanded the resignation of the health minister.
Before leaving for Gorakhpur, Health Minister Singh said, "The chief minister was not informed by the doctors and officials about shortage of oxygen on August 9.
"The shortage of oxygen was not highlighted. The medical education minister was also not briefed about it. Appropriate action will be taken keeping these points in mind."
Tandon said, "The chief minister is keeping a close watch on the entire issue. We will take appropriate action after investigating all aspects."
BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj in Unnao said the infants died because the oxygen supply was cut off over non-payment of dues.
He demanded stringent action against those responsible for the tragedy.