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Above: Dr Kafeel Khan addressing the press conference/Photo: Twitter

The unseemly fracas over Dr Kafeel Khan’s involvement in the death of 63 children two years ago in BRD Medical College refuses to die down, leading to a knee-jerk reaction from the state government

By Govind Raju in Lucknow

The unfortunate death of 63 children two years ago at Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College in Gorakhpur has once again surfaced. It all began with a press conference in Delhi by Dr Kafeel Khan who was convicted for the deaths of the children in Gorakhpur. He claimed the UP government had given him a clean chit and his suspension should be revoked and he should be reinstated.

But shortly after the press conference, the UP government asserted that his claim was wrong and untimely. It said that a departmental inquiry was going on against him and a final decision on the probe…

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Above: Dr Kafeel Khan addressing the press conference/Photo: Twitter

The unseemly fracas over Dr Kafeel Khan’s involvement in the death of 63 children two years ago in BRD Medical College refuses to die down, leading to a knee-jerk reaction from the state government

By Govind Raju in Lucknow

The unfortunate death of 63 children two years ago at Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College in Gorakhpur has once again surfaced. It all began with a press conference in Delhi by Dr Kafeel Khan who was convicted for the deaths of the children in Gorakhpur. He claimed the UP government had given him a clean chit and his suspension should be revoked and he should be reinstated.

But shortly after the press conference, the UP government asserted that his claim was wrong and untimely. It said that a departmental inquiry was going on against him and a final decision on the probe report was yet to be taken. The government mentioned that a copy of the report was made available to Khan and that he appeared to be giving misleading and incomplete facts. However, Khan was adamant about his claim and spoke of knocking on the doors of courts.

Khan joined BRD Medical College and Hospital in 2016 and served as the nodal officer of the encephalitis ward until August 2017 when he was suspended after a large number of deaths occurred there. It was reported that these deaths occurred after the hospital’s oxygen supply was cut off on August 10 over non-payment of dues.

Previously, the hospital’s oxygen supplier, Pushpa Sales, wrote a letter to UP CM Yogi Adityanath and the health minister reminding them that the dues were un­paid and supply would be discontinued.

On multiple occasions, Pushpa Sales wrote to the principal of the Medical College, Rajiv Mishra, the principal secretary of UP, Anita Bhatnagar Jain, the DG of Medical Education and others associated with the hospital reminding them of the unpaid dues. This continued even though it was common knowledge that during the rainy season, encephalitis patients require almost 24 hours’ supply of oxygen. Mishra, in turn, wrote many times to the UP government about the matter. On July 30, Pushpa Sales sent a legal notice to the principal, giving the Hospital time until August 14 to clear the dues. Oxygen ran out in the early hours of August 11.

The UP government now denies that any deaths occurred due to oxygen shortage. Soon enough, Khan was removed on charges of dereliction of duty and carrying out a private practice. An FIR was registered against him and some others after KK Gupta, DG, Health, submitted a written complaint. In September, Khan was arrested after a court issued a non-bailable warrant.

The Resident Doctors Association of AIIMS condemned his arrest and in April 2018, the Indian Medical Association released a statement in defence of Khan saying he had been framed. More than 200 health professionals and allied activists wrote a letter to Adityanath demanding justice for Khan and his immediate release.

In prison, Khan wrote a 10-page letter, detailing his version of what had transpired. He claimed that he had reached out to the HOD, the principal and acting principal of BRD, the district magistrate of Gorakhpur, the chief medical superintendent of Gorakhpur and BRD and colleagues to inform them of the situation. When nothing materialised, he went out to buy the oxygen cylinders himself. He was able to arrange about 250 cylinders, paying for them himself and promising the suppliers that he would arrange for the rest of the payment soon. He also mentioned that his family was being harassed by the police. He claimed he was tortured in prison and was not allowed to meet his family members.

On April 19, the hospital administration in response to an RTI query admitted that it faced a shortage of oxygen cylinders on the night of August 11, 2017. It stated that around six cylinders were bought from other hospitals and that Khan had arranged four oxygen cylinders on his own. On April 25, Khan was released on bail after nine months of imprisonment with the court ruling that there was no evidence of medical negligence on his part. Principal Secretary (Stamp and Registration) Himanshu Kumar, who investigated Khan’s case, absolved him of any medical negligence. Khan was himself given the letter clearing him of this charge.

The bail order by Allahabad Court confirms that he was not part of the tendering process for oxygen supply and there was no material on record proving any medical negligence on Khan’s part. The probe report stated that Khan was not the nodal medical officer in charge of the encephalitis wards at BRD Hospital at the time the deaths took place. The report corroborated that Khan informed his seniors about the oxygen supply shortage and arranged cylinders with his own money.

However, Mrityunjay Kumar, an advisor to Adityanath, said the inquiry had not disproved him of the charge of running a private practice. Khan maintained that even though he has not been discharged, it has been clearly stated by the investigating officer that there was no proof to ascertain that he had been running a private practice after August 8, 2016, the day he joined BRD Hospital.

There were accusations that Khan was targeted because he belonged to a particular community. In June last year, Khan’s brother, Kashif Jameel, was shot by unidentified assailants who were on motorbikes. Soon after, Khan said he had apprehended a murder attempt on his family members. Khan said that people had stopped doing business with his brothers and that he had gone bankrupt.

At the press conference, Khan denied being targeted as a minority community member. He claimed that when the news about the deaths broke out, people demanded Adityanath’s resignation while he was made a hero for his actions. In a few days, the narrative changed and the blame was put on his shoulders.

While people are still split over who is to be blamed, the knee-jerk reaction of the government in the case still does not reflect any corrective measures being taken. Khan claimed that before the deaths in 2017, the hospital used to release data as to the number of children admitted to the hospital and would also report any deaths. However, the government has stopped doing that now. He believes that rather than spending time and resources probing him, the government should have been on the lookout for the cause of deaths.

The fact that so many deaths of children happened in a hospital and no definite cause was attributed to them is an even bigger issue. While Khan said that he does not see any justice coming his way till the Adityanath government is in power, the suffering families have nothing to hold on to.

Between sub-standard health standards and politicisation of events, justice still eludes them.

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