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Updated: December 9, 2011 23:04 IST

All pleas to evacuate patients fell on deaf ears

Ananya Dutta
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A patient's relative at the AMRI Hospital where a major fire took place, in Kolkata on Friday morning.
A patient's relative at the AMRI Hospital where a major fire took place, in Kolkata on Friday morning.

Victims, many critically ill, suffocated to death in their beds

The gasping voice of 35-year-old Moonmoon Chakraborty awoke her brother just past 4 on Friday morning. “There is smoke all around the ward. I can't breathe,” he heard her say. She was barely coherent but he could sense panic in other voices heard on the phone. He rushed to see her in the AMRI Dhakuria Hospital here, but that call at 4.21 a.m. was the last he heard from his sister.

Film of soot on bodies

While the fire in the hospital raged on, most of the patients, many critically ill, were left in their beds on the upper floors to suffocate to death.

The victims — rows and rows of bodies, covered with a thin film of soot — appeared to be merely sleeping when they were shown to relatives who had been frantically searching for their loved ones in the morning.

“I pleaded with the staff and the doctors on duty to release my father, so that I may take him to another hospital. But they flatly refused, assuring us that the Intensive Cardiac Care Unit will not be affected by the fire,” said Raja Ganguly, son of 67-year-old Jawaharlal Ganguly whose family was there at the time the fire broke out.

While all pleas to evacuate the patients fell on deaf ears, hours later, ambulances started arriving to shift the 164 admitted patients to other facilities.

“They were crowding four or five patients into the same ambulance. We had no way of knowing whether those inside were alive or not. And in the whole confusion, no one knew who was being taken where,” said Mr. Ganguly, who was unable to locate his father's body for nine hours after the fire broke out.

Little information

What made matters worse was that there was little information from the authorities on the whereabouts of the patients.

The nephew of 70-year-old Nilima Palit could not find her name despite repeatedly scanning the lists of survivors who had been sent to the five hospitals across the city, and he was asked to go to the M. R. Bangur Hospital. There the family at last located her body but the relatives had to wait until it was brought to the morgue of the state-run SSKM hospital for autopsy.

Confusion reigns

The road leading to the morgue was choked with vans and ambulances. Even though West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was personally supervising the operations there, confusion reigned at the morgue.

Every now and then an announcement would be made for the family of a victim to bring the death certificate or proof of identity: “The doctors are ready for autopsy.”

In every such tragedy of major fires or collapsed buildings the persons or authority responsible for granting clearances, permits , licences or annual inspections should be primarily held responsible. The only time a thorough inspection is carried out is if a bribe is refused. Then with a feeling of "let me teach you a lesson" the job is done properly and every little weakness or failing of the institution is highlited and duly penalised. Normally inspecting officers sit in the cabin of the senior most administrator get entertained with snacks, have minor favours granted, sign on the the required dotted line and leave in good cheer with the proverbial 'gift packet'. They do not do their duty as required of honest officials. Does Anna Hazare sincerely believe that all those crying out with him against curruption at Jantar Manter will not pay to have an out of turn favour or a fault white-washed by officaldom?

from:  Malini Mirza
Posted on: Dec 14, 2011 at 12:32 IST

My heart bleeds just by looking at the accompanying picture. We can only pray for the departed souls. It is now hell for the surviving family members. Whatever money that is donated, would it bring back the dead? Hopefully, the news does not become statistics and lessons would be learnt. In starred public hospitals, how quickly people at basement areas can escape in case of fire? At times, even canteens function in basements. Particularly, in Tamil Nadu, have we ensured that Kumbakonam like tragedies do not repeat? Kolkata incident is indeed a wake up call.

from:  D. Chandramouli
Posted on: Dec 11, 2011 at 05:29 IST

Disaster recovery mechanism is a complete failure in India and incidents like this prove this time and again. Its high time government does something concrete towards the same.

from:  Harigovind
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 23:30 IST

Everything to be ashamed of being Indian. Perhaps someone is listening.
Systematic failure of our systems. Train crash after another, fire
tragedy after another. What are we as a nation?

from:  Rajan Vijayaraghavan
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 20:29 IST

While the patients were dieing all that the hospital management could
think of was money! Thats' why they did not even bothered to unlock the least some people could have saved. This is so
shameful....Hospital turning into a death house !!!

from:  Lucas
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 20:27 IST

Who is responsible for this terrible tragedy?.........WE and OUR ATTITUDES. Well said.

from:  moorthy
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 20:18 IST

Firstly our administration could immediately call Defense experts / commandos for rescue operation so that many lives saved. Now the postmortem of the fact revealed that our regulatory authorities reluctant enough to safeguard public life since it has no cost. We have heard operating license of the Hospital seized and owners arrested but what about senior doctors who were making chunk of money from that building. We are also conscious that few media channel is portraying our present leader continuously, well we should also thankfully remember them who all are taken part in the rescue operation in the hospital with others associated with entire activities related to various supporting activities. Lastly not favouring the owners, whether PROFIT is greater than LIVES.

from:  S Roy
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 13:56 IST

No safety mechanism is being followed in our country. Lack of strict enforcement by the govt machinery is the main cause for all these.Officials of the govt machinery who are supposed to supervise the maintaionance of all the prevelant rules must be penalised. They always go scotfree.CM/PM, Ministeres,Parliment and asseblies condoling the death and announcing ex-gratia; opposition parties raising their voice is the order. No genuine concern by any of them.

from:  T V Meenakshisundaram
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 09:08 IST

really authorites must be punished. due to their irresponsible behaviour we have lost 90 peoples.

from:  vikash dubey
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 07:59 IST

What a national shame! But one thing strikes me as being significant: All the educated, employed, sophisticated people around the hospital acted irresponsibly by not going to the rescue of the patients immediately. The slum youths, the so called unwashed segment, were the compassionate ones who jumped to the aid of the patients without caring about personal safety. Who is better? The callous authorities and the rich owners, or the slum dwellers who were unmindful of dangers of smoke? The people who slept in air conditioned hospital and who were rescued owe a debt of gratitude to the slum dwellers. It is their background and upbringing that makes these slum dwellers such nice persons. The people who were helped should pay for making the slum better, and the hospital should pay additional reparations. Paying just 5 lakhs to each of the dead is unspeakably shabby. It should be more like a crore of rupees to each of the dead and injured families.

from:  Krishna Kumar
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 04:23 IST

I see future of my country, crystal clear, and every one of us are responsible for this. We are not brave enough to retrospect our selves, but this the reward for negligence, and unthoughtful selfishness at every level in the country. People hardly remember fire incident in Delhi Movie theatre, and the root cause for both these incidents is not considerably different. Its easy to blame this hospital, but it is next to impossible to over come the political pressure to do a thorough builiding inspection and security inspection of thousands of mediocre hospitals scattered in mera bharat mahan. How competent are our poorly trained security staff in such scenarios, its the responsibility of the management to give them adequate training and run frequent mock trials. If any politicians comes out with such agendas, he will loose his deposit in the general elections, so think twice, who is responsible,........we, and our attitudes.

from:  kiran maddu
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 04:02 IST

Unfortunately in India life of a person comes at a very cheap cost. Be it careless or rather hopeless doctors or policemen, all give false assurances and care little for the people. Precious lives lost can never be brought back n another inquiry about such an incident will only be just paperwork.

from:  Ashwini Kumar
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 01:38 IST

What is not clear from the report is the culpability of public officials. Was a hospital authorized to operate in the area as per zoning rules? Had the hospital received clearances from Fire Department and other agencies? Was the fire fighting facilities, exits etc. in the hospital as per regulations, when were they last inspected, and was clearance given?

from:  I.C.Nito
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 00:21 IST

As usual this incident will also call for a judicial enquiry and the report will be out when the incident will fade away from the surviving victims.The real root cause of this type of tragedies could be attributed to the rampant corruption which is engulfing our nation.Whether it is a fire and safety certificate or fitness certificate for a vehicle it is very well with in one's reach if he can spend fraction of the money which he may need to shell out to make the building or vehicle worthy for use.Unless and untill India root out this basic root cause- the rampant catter pillar of corruption which eat our economy from it's tender shoot there wont won't be any let up for the common man.The report of palm greasing will be out once the enquiry findings come out with out falling prey to the same root cause.No report will replace a lost life or the pangs of the surviving .Needless to say that it equally applies to people of all walks of India.

from:  Bose A Panicker
Posted on: Dec 9, 2011 at 23:57 IST

This is a meyhem. No punishment can be big enough to create a sense of sharp responsibility. The resilience of every public utility, especially hospitals, require to be assessed with stringent laws. Existing laws have to be reviewed sharply. Present laws do not instill confidence in the kind of preventive measures put in place by the public utilities. Training hospital employees in incident response, with clarity of the realistic skills they should possess to fight incidents, should be part of hospital management's statutory responsibilities.
It is not enough if the hospital management alone is punished in case of lacklustre preventive measures implemented by it. The government officers, responsible for negligence of surveillance role should also be arraigned. Well, the arms of law should even catch hold of the ministers responsible for allowing lop-sided compliance by public utilities to continue. AMRI hospital fire disaster should be an eye opener for the entire country.

from:  Govind Srinivasan
Posted on: Dec 9, 2011 at 23:25 IST
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