Seven newborns die in fire at east Delhi children’s hospital; owner arrested

Five more babies receiving treatment; police say hospital’s expired license allowed for only five beds

Updated - May 26, 2024 11:49 pm IST

Published - May 26, 2024 08:25 am IST - New Delhi

At least seven new born babies were killed in a fire that broke out in a baby care facility in a hospital in east Delhi’s Shahdara on May 26, 2024.

At least seven new born babies were killed in a fire that broke out in a baby care facility in a hospital in east Delhi’s Shahdara on May 26, 2024. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Seven newborn babies were charred to death after a children’s hospital in east Delhi’s Vivek Vihar caught fire on Saturday night. One of the dead infants was 25 days old while the other six were just 15 days old. Five other babies in the same unit are undergoing treatment.

Police said that the hospital’s license was inadequate and expired, while the building was not equipped with fire extinguishers or emergency doors. The owner of the hospital, along with the doctor on duty, was arrested on Sunday evening after going missing for over 12 hours. They have been booked under Sections 336 (negligence), 304 A (culpable homicide), and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. 

Also read: Fire accidents since Independence – A timeline

A magisterial inquiry has been set up to look into the causes of the fire and formulate strategies a way to prevent such occurrences in the future. 

No extinguishers, expired license

The private hospital, New Born Baby Care Hospital, is owned by Naveen Khichi, who holds an MD in Pediatric Medicine, and his wife Jagriti, a dentist. Apart from the seven babies who died, five other newborns admitted in the same facility were also put at risk by the flames.

DCP (Shahdara) Surendra Choudhury told The Hindu that the building had no fire extinguishers or emergency doors. “The license of the hospital had expired in March 2024. Though the license was issued for only five beds, there were 12 beds when we inspected the site,” he said, adding that Akash, the doctor on duty, only had a degree in ayurvedic medicine and was not qualified to provide neonatal intensive care. 

A senior Delhi Police official told The Hindu that while the cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained, preliminary assessment suggests that it might have been due to a short circuit, with the presence of excessive oxygen cylinders exacerbating the situation. 

Hospital staff missing

The police control room received a call at around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night, informing them of the fire. A senior police officer told The Hindu that though the police reached the hospital shortly after the call, no staff members were present at the spot.

Shortly afterwards, the Delhi Fire Services (DFS) also reached the spot with nine fire tenders. DFS chief Atul Garg told The Hindu that the fire spread to an adjacent boutique, the indoors and rooftop of a bank next to the hospital, an optical shop, an ambulance, and a scooter near the building before it could be put out. Another DFS official said that the fire had also caused severe damage to the residential buildings next to it. 

Citizen rescues

Jyotjeet Sabarwal, who heads the disaster management wing of the Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, an NGO, told The Hindu that while the DFS was instrumental in controlling the fire, the rescue was led and carried out by local residents.

“We climbed up a ladder and broke the glass of the first floor of the building, where all 12 newborn babies were kept. When we broke in, we saw that everything around the children had caught fire — their clothes, diapers and the cot-like units where each baby was kept,” said Mr. Sabarwal. 

While all 12 children were rescued, the seven babies who were placed in the cots closer to the front of the building were completely charred, he added. 

Vulnerable infants

A medical officer working in the East Delhi Advance NICU Hospital told The Hindu that the newborns, wrapped in dupattas and towels, were rushed from the blazing hospital in cabs and scooters. “While six of them were declared brought dead, two of them were put on a ventilator, out of which one passed away on Sunday morning,” the officer added. 

The medical officer said that the New Born Baby Care Hospital usually treated premature babies or those who had incurred some infection, so the babies were already in a feeble condition. 

‘No call from hospital’

Sitara Khatun, whose baby boy died in the fire, told The Hindu that he was supposed to have been released by the hospital on Sunday morning. Instead, the child’s body is now in the GTB mortuary. “When my husband visited my child on Saturday, the doctor told him that he was doing fine and that they would release him on Sunday morning. I wish he had brought him back on Saturday, then I wouldn’t have to live to see this,” she said, weeping uncontrollably. 

Another parent, whose baby is now being treated at the East Delhi Advance NICU Hospital, said that he had not received any information from the management of the New Born Baby Care Hospital regarding the tragedy. “In the last 12 hours since the hospital caught fire, we did not get one call from the hospital management,” said Mithilesh Kumar, a delivery worker. 

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