GORAKHPUR (India) • A key ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing calls for his resignation after at least 64 children died at a government hospital in northern India that suffered oxygen shortages.
Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, visited the hospital yesterday as angry relatives demanded answers.
The deaths occurred over six days, with Indian media reporting that 30 children died last Thursday and Friday because of a lack of oxygen in the children's wards.
Doctors admitted the oxygen supply had been disrupted for a couple of hours on Thursday, but said no deaths had occurred at that time.
The hospital's breakdown of the death toll showed a jump on Thursday when 23 infants died, including 14 babies at its neo-natal unit.
Suppliers' bills had allegedly not been paid, leading to a shortage.
Local officials have conceded there was a disruption to the oxygen supply at the hospital in Gorakhpur, but insist the deaths were caused by encephalitis and other illnesses, not a lack of available oxygen. But victims' families have disputed this, describing the panic and chaos as patients began struggling from a sudden lack of oxygen.
"As soon as we reached the hospital, we were handed a small pump and told to keep pumping. I did so for over 31/2 hours," one victim's father Shailendra Gupta was quoted by yesterday's Indian Express as saying. "The next day, we were informed that he was dead."
Gorakhpur's police commissioner Anil Kumar told Agence France- Presse yesterday that 11 more children died on Saturday. "But I reiterate, they were not due to lack of oxygen supply," he said.
The head of the hospital has stood down pending an inquiry.
As anger grew, opposition parties and government critics led the charge for Mr Adityanath's resignation. The firebrand Hindu priest, who won India's largest state in a landslide in March, toured the hospital wards yesterday.
Said Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, a senior leader of India's main opposition Congress party, late on Saturday: "The chief minister, health minister and the health secretary must immediately resign and doctors should not be blamed for this."