The West Bengal government will use all its resources to give justice to the people and act against those responsible for the “killing” of so many people, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said here on Friday, after a fire ravaged a city hospital claiming several lives.

“It is a criminal offence; it is a crime,” she said.

All six directors of the AMRI Hospitals were arrested; the hospital's licence was cancelled; and the premises would be sealed once the rescue operations were over, she said. “The entire government is on a rescue operation.”

Blaming the hospital authorities for the tragedy, Ms. Banerjee, who also holds the Health portfolio, said a high-power committee comprising officials of the Fire Service, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the police was set up to inquire into the incident.

“The Fire Brigade had, in September, instructed the hospital authorities to take care [clear] of the basement [where the fire first broke out], and the authorities gave an undertaking that they would do so,” she pointed out. That obviously was not done.

Ms. Banerjee visited the hospital in the morning and used a microphone to appeal to the frantic crowd that gathered there not to come in the way of those involved in the rescue. She later went to the SSKM Hospital, where the bodies of the victims were taken.

Reacting strongly to complaints that the hospital staff prevented the local youth from helping in the rescue of the patients trapped in the building, she said those who did so were guilty of a criminal offence.

Implying that the authorities were negligent, she said: “Negligence is a crime.” “Whether it [negligence] was committed knowingly or unknowingly, the inquiry that has been ordered will reveal the actual facts.” Her decision to cancel the licence of the hospital and suspend all medicare there was in response to the public demand.

“People spend huge amounts of money, for which many have to sell their personal items, to get admitted to such a hospital. The outcome is so many deaths,” she regretted.

Ms. Banerjee said a financial assistance of Rs. 3 lakh would be given to each of the bereaved families and another Rs. 10,000 for conducting the funeral rites. A job would be given to one member of the family of each victim, if it so desired.

Governor M.K. Narayanan expressed “shock and grief” over the deaths.