Delhi Children’s Hospital Fire: Lieutenant Governor Criticizes Chief Minister and Orders Anti-Corruption Probe

LG Vinai Kumar Saxena Law Insider

Published on: May 28, 2024 21:57 IST

The devastating fire in a Delhi children’s hospital last week, which resulted in the deaths of seven infants, has drawn sharp criticism from Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena. He expressed his disappointment that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Delhi Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj had “paid only lip service and given sound bites to the press… and shirked responsibility” since the tragic incident.

In response to the incident, Mr. Saxena stated that he felt compelled “in public interest” to order an anti-corruption probe into potential lapses in the registration and regulatory management of private nursing homes in the city.

“… ACB has been directed to undertake a comprehensive inquiry into the registration of nursing homes in the city, to assess how many nursing homes are functioning without valid registrations and if those that have a valid registration comply with prescribed norms,” Mr. Saxena announced.

Alleging an “absence of ministerial oversight… criminal neglect, and connivance of government officials in granting or renewing licences for nursing homes,” he stated that he had been “forced to step in… on account of the lack of seriousness on (the) part of authorities entrusted with these responsibilities.”

The AAP has not yet responded to Mr. Saxena’s statements. However, Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj on Monday ordered a mandatory audit of safety equipment in every city hospital and vowed “strictest punishment” against those found guilty. Additionally, the Delhi government has instituted a magistrate-level inquiry into the fire.

Lapses in Delhi Hospital Fire

Serious lapses have been identified in the aftermath of the blaze. The hospital reportedly lacked an emergency exit system for fires and did not have a valid no-objection certificate. There were also 10 more beds than the hospital was allowed, leading to chaos when the fire broke out, as panicked staff, patients, and caregivers tried to escape. Also, at least two of the doctors on duty at the time were not qualified to treat newborns needing intensive neonatal care; the doctors held only BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) degrees. The two, including hospital owner Dr. Naveen Khichi, have been arrested.

“Have Taken Serious View,” LG Says

“I have taken a very stern view (of) the matter. Although this is a transferred subject (under the sole jurisdiction of the Delhi government), I am forced to step in, in the larger public interest, on account of the lack of seriousness of authorities entrusted with these responsibilities,” Mr. Saxena declared.

In a letter to the Delhi government’s Chief Secretary, shared via sources in the Lieutenant Governor’s office, Mr. Saxena said the Anti-Corruption Bureau had been directed to investigate how many nursing homes are functioning without valid permits, including those related to fire safety. “I am given to understand there are 1,190 nursing homes (in Delhi), of which over a quarter are operating without a valid registration,” he claimed in his letter. “Also, there are many nursing homes that never applied for a registration but are operating nonetheless. Even those that have a valid licence may not meet safety and regulatory standards in the Delhi Nursing Homes Registration Act.”

Mr. Saxena, who has had frequent and acrimonious run-ins with Arvind Kejriwal and his colleagues, accused the Delhi government of “brushing such serious matters under the carpet.”

“The existence of such nursing homes, which serve the poorer sections, speaks volumes about the severe lack of public health infrastructure… this is a larger neglected issue,” he said. On Sunday, Mr. Saxena “directed” the Chief Secretary (who reports to the Chief Minister) and the city’s Police Commissioner (who reports to the Union Home Minister) to “institute an inquiry.”

Delhi Children’s Hospital Fire

Earlier this month, Mr. Saxena also ordered a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe against Mr. Kejriwal over allegations that he received funds from the banned Sikhs For Justice group, led by wanted terrorist Gurpatwant Pannun. Mr. Kejriwal’s party swiftly hit back via Mr. Bhardwaj, who dismissed the probe call as a “conspiracy” against the party and its leader. “LG sir is an agent of the BJP… This is another big conspiracy against Chief Minister Kejriwal at the behest of the BJP,” he said in a brief statement.

In recent weeks, Mr. Saxena has also intervened in the Swati Maliwal row; the Delhi LG, as many would have predicted, supported Ms. Maliwal, who accused Mr. Kejriwal’s aide of assault. The LG declared himself “deeply distressed” by the whole incident.

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