Culpable homicide case against Nanded hospital dean

Opposition slams government for sleeping through the crisis and travelling for pleasure even as Maharashtra hospitals death toll rises to 108

Representative image (photo: National Herald archives)
Representative image (photo: National Herald archives)

Sujata Anandan

Never before has Maharashtra witnessed anything like the mass deaths of patients, including infants and newborns, on such a scale. Within the span of days, government and civic hospitals in four major cities — Thane (chief minister Eknath Shinde's constituency), Nanded (that of former chief minister Ashok Chavan), Aurangabad (that of the lone All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslim MP from the state, Imtiaz Jaleel) and Nagpur (deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ home turf and Union minister Nitin Gadkari's Lok Sabha constituency) have reported multiple deaths, amounting to 108 fatalities so far.

Now, in typical callous fashion associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the doctors and the chief minister are saying, “Patients didn’t die at the hospital. Only the aged above 90 did. And the children were undernourished.”

That arouses a sense of dèja vu, recalling how Modi had once famously blamed climate change on people’s old bones rather than scientific factors. In this instance, too, it was the lack of science — in fact shortage of medicines and oxygen supplies — that seems to be responsible for these deaths.

But the Maharashtra government seems to be in a state of denial. Though the first series of deaths was reported two weeks ago from his own home turf of Thane, Shinde, instead of addressing the issue, was preparing to depart for Germany until Shiv Sena (UBT)’s Aaditya Thackeray called for transparency and accountability including on who was funding the trip. If it was taxpayers’ money then it would be better directed at supplying medicines to hospitals in crisis, he said, prompting Shinde and other cabinet ministers to cancel their trips to different parts of the world.

Shinde and Fadnavis still did not visit the hospitals and chose instead to attend a media conclave in New Delhi. The attempt to shirk responsibility seems to come from a desire to stay out of Maharashtra even as pressure is building on the speaker to take a decision on the disqualification of Shinde and his MLAs, which could lead to a crisis for the government. 

Now, amid an FIR registered against the dean of the Nanded hospital in a case for culpable homicide, it turns out that the hospital had no medicines to treat a mother, Anjali Waghmare, and her newborn. Despite the family spending Rs 45,000 to buy medicines and blood units from outside the hospital, no doctor or staff were available to attend to mother and child. The dean is accused of paying no attention to the emergency situation and keeping the relatives of the woman waiting outside for hours. Ultimately both succumbed — the mother bled to death while the child died of respiratory complications.

However, despite such action and calls for fixing responsibility, the horrific dance of death continued in the Aurangabad and Nagpur government hospitals, with 14 and 25 deaths respectively, including those of newborns, reported in the last two days.

This has now raised questions about the fragility of Maharashtra’s health system which even during the Covid crisis had proved robust, with the government ensuring oxygen and medicine supplies when many other states had failed to do so.

Sources said a large chunk of the funds budgeted for the health department had not been released to hospitals this year and this was at the root of the surge in mortality rate.

NCP leader Supriya Sule has slammed the government for ‘sleeping’ through the crisis even as the health system collapsed like dominoes. “The fear (of the people going to these hospitals) has not yet ended", she said. “The chief minister and deputy chief minister have all the time in the world to attend conclaves everywhere but no time for the dying people of their own state.”

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