Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh interacts with staff members, at Bhandara General Hospital in Bhandara district, Saturday. January. 9, 2021. (PTI)
Mumbai: In a shocking incident, at least 10 newborn babies died at the neonatal care unit of the district government hospital in Maharashtra, in the early hours of Saturday when a major fire broke out.
The incident took place at around 2 AM on Saturday at the neonatal care unit of Bhandara district hospital. The babies lost their lives due to burn injuries and suffocation after fire and smoke engulfed the building. The infants were aged between one day and one month.
State health minister Rajesh Tope said that three of the 10 infants died of burn injuries while seven suffocated to death because of the smoke. All the 10 infants, including eight girls, were underweight and needed to be given oxygen, he added.
District civil surgeon Pramod Khandate said there were 17 babies in the unit and seven were rescued.
A nurse first noticed smoke coming out from the neonatal section of the hospital and alerted doctors and other staff who reached there in five minutes, he said.
Fire brigade personnel rescued seven babies from the "inbound ward" of the unit but could not save the 10 other babies, he said.
Dr Khandate said the ward where newborn babies are kept requires a continuous supply of oxygen. "There were fire extinguishers and staff used them while trying to douse the fire. There was too much smoke," he added.
The Maharashtra government has ordered a probe into the tragic incident. The government has also announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the deceased's parents.
Former Maharashtra energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule of the BJP claimed that relatives of the infants had complained about power fluctuations in the ward last week. "I spoke with relatives of the deceased infants. They told me that power fluctuations had been happening in the hospital ward since the last seven days. The relatives had asked the hospital staff to check electric switches etc, but apparently no action was taken," Mr Bawankule said.
Demanding a high-level inquiry, he also alleged that the hospital didn't have proper fire safety and electrical equipment in place.
According to him, a proposal to purchase fire safety equipment worth over Rs 1 crore at the hospital sent to the principal secretary, health, and the director of health in the state government has been pending for approval.
Speaking with The Asian Age, Sandeep Kadam, Bhandara collector, said, "We have called state electrical inspectors, forensic laboratory, Nagpur and National Fire College to investigate the case. Let the agencies’ reports come, then we will know what exactly happened."
Meanwhile, the state government appointed a six-member committee headed by Dr Sadhana Tayade, director of health, to conduct a probe. Mr Tope said that the committee will submit its report to the state government within three days.
Expressing grief over the death of newborn babies, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said, "I have ordered a probe into the entire incident. I have instructed to take strict action against the culprits."