(Eds: Adding details, quotes) By Charles Salve Bhandara, Jan 9 (PTI) In a horrific tragedy, ten newborn babies died after a fire broke out at a neo-natal care ward of a state-run hospital at Bhandara in eastersn Maharashtra in the early hours of Saturday.
The staff managed to rescue seven of the 17 babies in the ward.
While the cause was suspected to be a short circuit or malfunctioning air-conditioning unit and the state goverment ordered probe by fire experts, a BJP leader alleged that there were complaints about power flucuations in the ward but no action was taken.
Those responsible shall not be spared, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said. A fire audit of all the hospitals in the state has been ordered, he informed.
Calling the incident 'heart-wrenching and mind- numbing', Thackeray said a new wing for children had been opened at the district hospital in 2015 and it will be probed whether a fire audit of the new building had been carried out.
He also announced aid of Rs 5 lakh for family members of deceased babies.
The deceased infants -- eight girls and two boys -- were aged between one month and three months, a doctor said.
State health minister Rajesh Tope told reporters that three of the ten infants died of burn injuries while seven others died of suffocation caused by smoke.
According to doctors, the blaze erupted in the Special Newborn Care Unit of the hospital around 1.30 am. Ten out of the 17 babies in the affected unit died while seven babies were rescued, said District civil surgeon Pramod Khandate.
According to Dr Khandate, a nurse noticed smoke coming out from the neonatal section -- which needs continuous oxyygen supply -- and alerted doctors and other staff who rushed there and tried to douse flames with fire extinguishers before fire brigade arrived.
They managed to rescued seven children from smoke- filled ward but ten others perished in the tragedy, he said.
The cause of the fire in the four-storey building is yet to be ascertained but could be short circuit, he said.
'The government has ordered a high-level probe to find out if a short circuit or the air conditioner malfunctioning was the reason,' said state home minister Anil Deshmukh.
Experts of National Fire Service College and the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) will conduct investigation, he said.
Former Maharashtra energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule of the BJP claimed that relatives of the infants had complained about power fluctuations in the ward last week.
'The relatives had asked the hospital staff to check electric switches etc, but apparently no action was taken,' Bawankule told PTI.
He also alleged that the hospital didn't have proper fire safety equipment, and a proposal to purchase fire safety equipment worth over Rs 1 crore sent to the health department was pending for approval.
Photographs from the ward showed blackened walls, floor thick with ash, and charred furniture.
Unbearable pain was seen in the eyes of parents of deceased children as they grappled with the calamity.
'We had not even named our daughter and now we have got her burnt dead body,' said Vishwanath Behere, a labourer, as his wife sobbed.
The tragedy evoked condolences from President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and others.
'Heart-wrenching tragedy in Bhandara, Maharashtra, where we have lost precious young lives. My thoughts are with all the bereaved families. I hope the injured recover as early as possible,' Modi tweeted.
In his tweet posted in Hindi, President Kovind said, 'I am deeply saddened by the untimely death of infants in a fire accident in Bhandara, Maharashtra. My heartfelt condolences to the families who lost their children in this heart-wrenching event'.
Rahul Gandhi appealed to the Maharashtra government to provide all possible assistance to the families of the deceased and the injured. The Congress is a constituent in the Shiv Sena-led state government.
Terming the death of the ten infants a 'very painful' incident, former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis demanded a thorough probe. PTI CLS MR ND VT NSK KRK KRK