Indian police arrest hospital boss after six babies die in fire

Published May 27, 2024
A photo from May 26 shows the damaged Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) ward in an unlicenced hospital where several newborns died in a fire in New Delhi. — Reuters
A photo from May 26 shows the damaged Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) ward in an unlicenced hospital where several newborns died in a fire in New Delhi. — Reuters

Indian police said on Monday they had arrested a doctor and the owner of an unlicensed hospital where six newborn babies died when a fire erupted in a crowded ward without fire exits.

The blaze broke out at the New Born Baby Care hospital in New Delhi’s Vivek Vihar area late Saturday evening. In the crucial first minutes, bystanders spotted the fire and braved the blaze to rescue the newborns inside.

“We didn’t even name her […] I never even held her in my arms,” Anjar Khan, whose 11-day-old daughter died in the blaze, was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.

Vinod Sharma, who lost his day-old baby boy, blamed the hospital authorities for the tragedy.

“He had a problem with breathing. The doctor had said that he will be fine in a few days,” Sharma was quoted as saying by The Indian Express newspaper. “We didn’t know that the hospital would kill him.”

Five babies rescued alive

Fires are common in India due to poor building practices, overcrowding and a lack of adherence to safety regulations. The narrow two-storey hospital building was squeezed between a row of homes, without space on either side, making it hard for fire engines to reach.

“We were trying to control the fire, but there was no way to enter the building and rescue the 12 babies who were trapped,” local fire officer Atul Garg told reporters.

Senior police officer Surendra Chaudhary told AFP that the hospital did “not have a fire exit system”.

Its licence expired in March and the owner filled the ward with more than twice the number of beds it previously had permission for.

“The hospital had permission for up to five beds but they had installed more than 10 beds,” he said. “In view of all this, we have made the arrests.”

Five babies pulled out from the fire are still recovering in another hospital.

‘Highly flammable’

The blaze in the hospital on Saturday broke out just hours after a separate fire at an amusement park in India’s western state of Gujarat. The toll from that fire rose to 28 on Monday, police said.

The blaze — which ripped through a centre with a bowling alley and other games crowded with youngsters — was triggered by welding work on the ground floor, chief fire officer Ilesh Kher told reporters.

“The CCTV footage clearly shows that a spark from the welding work fell on a stack of corrugated cardboard sheets below, causing the fire,” Kher said. “This spread very fast as the material was highly flammable.”

The corpses were so badly burned they have not been identified so far.

Police have charged seven people with culpable homicide in connection to that fire. The two fires came as northern India was gripped by intense heat, with temperatures in Delhi hitting 46.8°C.

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