Lucknow, (NDTV): Thirty children, many of them newborns, have died in the last 48 hours at a hospital in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur district, 60 in the last five days. The UP government has not said what has caused such a large number of child deaths, but denied reports linking them to a disruption in the supply of oxygen at the hospital.
"There have been no deaths due to lack of oxygen supply," said UP's medical education Minister Ashutosh Tondon, adding that the district magistrate of Gorakhpur has ordered an investigation and "the report will be out within 24 hours". The state-run Baba Raghav Das Medical College is the biggest hospital in Gorakhpur, which has been Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's parliamentary constituency for the last 19 years.
The hospital said that while 23 children had died on Thursday - when there was a disruption in the oxygen supply - it was not the reason behind the deaths.
District Magistrate Rajeev Rautela told reporters that oxygen supply was "disrupted" at the hospital when its regular vendor stopped service because previous bills had not been paid. But, he said, "The medical college officials told us that there was alternative oxygen supply, therefore the charge of lack of oxygen supply can be ruled out."
The hospital, Mr Rautela said, owed Rs. 70 lakh to the vendor, of which it had already paid Rs. 35 lakh. "We also got in touch with the vendor in Lucknow, he confirmed that there was a payment issue and the transaction was pending. We requested him not to disrupt the oxygen supply," the official said.
BJP lawmaker from UP's Bansgaon, Kamlesh Paswan, who is from Gorakhpur and was at the hospital for several hours on Friday, too asserted that there was no connection between the deaths and disruption in supply of oxygen cylinders.
"An average 8-10 patients die every day in this hospital, which gets a large number of encephalitis patients," Mr Paswan said. While he admitted that negligence may have caused some of the deaths, he promised Mr Adityanath would take stern action if it was established. Thousands have died since the first case of encephalitis was discovered in the 1970s in Gorakhpur.
The Congress and the Samajwadi Party have sought the resignation of UP's health minister. Former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav called for strong action. "Families of the dead were sent off with the bodies, they did not even do autopsies... extremely unfortunate," he alleged in a tweet.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "Deeply pained. My thoughts are with the families of the victims. BJP government is responsible and should punish the negligent who caused this tragedy."
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