Two women died and seven patients were injured on Saturday after a fire engulfed a part of a state-run medical college and hospital in Murshidabad district, prompting the West Bengal government to order a CID probe into the possibility of sabotage.
Horrific video footage of an ailing newborn sustaining serious injuries on being thrown away by parents in a desperate bid to save the baby’s life went viral, triggering shock.
The fire started at about 11:50 a.m. due to a short circuit in the ‘male medical ward’ on the first floor of Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital in Baharampur, causing panic among people, said Director of Health Services B.R. Satpathy.
“There was a mad scramble and two women got seriously injured in the stampede. Both have died. One of them was an attendant and the other a patient’s relative,” he said.
Seven patients received minor injuries and were being treated, a state government release said.
“All other patients and health workers are safe,” it said. “The fire was controlled very fast and now the situation was returning to normal,” said Satpathy.
The paediatric and male medical wards were evacuated after the fire started.
“There was no damage to the paediatric ward. The children admitted there have been taken back to the ward. Fifty per cent of patients are also back in the male medical ward,” said Satpathy.
However, eyewitnesses said as panic gripped the hospital,,some relatives of the patients in the paediatric ward on the second floor even climbed trees and broke window panes to rescue babies admitted in the Sick Newborn Care Units.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who monitored the situation from here, deputed Chandrima Bhattacharya, chairperson, West Bengal Medical Services Corporation, to the spot. A medical team was rushed from Malda.
The state government has asked the Criminal Investigation Department of the state police to look into the possibility of sabotage.
A high level inquiry committee has been set up under the chairmanship of the health secretary and comprising secretaries of other relevant departments to look into the causes of the accident, suggest remedial measures and look into incidental issues.
“They will submit a report after considering all aspects. We have to see whether fire safety has been compromised,” Satpathy said.
“We have to see how there was a short circuit in the air-conditioned machine. The fire fighting system available there and whether the staff were trained in combating fire, these aspects are also being looked into.”
A distraught attendant claimed the stampede occurred as the locks of the emergency exit could not be opened.
“I don’t know how the fire broke out. The entire area was filled with smoke. The attendants were rushing down with patients to save them. I don’t know how many have died. The locks of emergency exit couldn’t be opened,” the attendant said.
A fire brigade official said there was only once staircase for entry and exit. “So there was a lot of gathering there when the fire started. That led to the stampede”.
Saturday’s tragedy comes exactly a week after a fire broke out in the operation theatre of Katwa sub-divisional hospital in Burdwan district.