The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has sent a notice to the Maharashtra government and the state police chief over the death of ten newborn babies in a fire at Bhandara district general hospital, seeking a detailed report on the incident within four weeks, officials said on Monday. The Commission, while issuing the notice, observed that it is a “serious issue of violation of human rights for which the accountability of negligent officers and officials is required to be fixed, with retrospective effect”.
The fire had broken out in the Special Newborn Care Unit of the state-run hospital in the early hours on January 9 (Saturday). Seven babies were rescued, doctors had said. The age of deceased infants ranged between less than a month and a couple of months. “The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognisance of media reports that ten infants were killed in a fire that swept through the Sick Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) at Bhandara District General Hospital in Maharashtra on January 9.
“The fire reportedly broke out at around 1.30 AM and the hospital administration could rescue only seven out of the seventeen children kept in the ward,” the NHRC said in a statement. The Commission has issued notices to the state chief secretary and Director General of Police, seeking a detailed report within four weeks, the officials said.
The report must contain the fire audit reports of various hospitals in the state as well as measures that have been taken or contemplated to be taken by the state against the erring or negligent officers and officials so that they cannot go on with impunity, the statement said. The Commission has also observed that the babies were in the custody of a state-run hospital where they lost their lives, and “hence, the state cannot escape its responsibility”.
The state police chief is also expected to inform the Commission about the outcome of the investigation being conducted by the police authorities, the rights panel said in the statement. A relief of Rs 5 lakh has been announced by the state government from the Chief Minister’s Fund to each bereaved family and a state-wide fire audit has also been announced. A case of accident has been reportedly registered and further investigation is being conducted, it said.
The monetary relief alone is not sufficient to compensate. Further, it is imperative to ensure that the support systems in various hospitals in the state must provide adequate care and attention to the patients for protection of their human rights, the rights panel said. The Special Newborn Care Unit of the four-storeyed district hospital in Bhandara district town, about 900 km from the state capital Mumbai, is a 36-bed ward.
According to the media reports, prima facie, the fire perhaps originated from the air-conditioner and the babies died due to suffocation caused by smoke. Reportedly, a committee headed by the health director will probe the incident and submit its report within three days, the NHRC statement said.