On August 6, 2020, a massive fire broke out in a designated Covid 19 Hospital in Ahmedabad, killing 8 patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
It was later reported by SabrangIndia that the said Shrey Hospital did not have a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the fire department of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation according to Ahmedabad Fire and Emergency Services Chief Fire Officer M F Dastur. The hospital director, and prime accused Bharat Mahant, and later, an unidentified ward boy, were held for interrogation.
All hospitals are required to renew the No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Fire department annually. Following the fire at Shrey Hospital, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation ordered a fire audit at 72 Covid care facilities. 20 have been found to be lacking the NOC as of August 7, revealed SabrangIndia reports.
Four months later, Times of India has reported that police are yet to find any evidence of negligence by the hospital authorities. Assistant Commissioner of Police M. A Patel told Times of India, “We have been investigating on the basis of reports of the FSL and fire department but no substantial evidence was found against Mahant and the other three other accused, who are out on bail.”
Another Police officer added that there was no negligence on part of the Hospital and that the fire was caused due to a spark in the electric socket which spread rapidly because of the oxygen supply in the Hospital. “The oxygen supply was essential for Covid 19 patients and the fan was kept in the ward on request of a patient. So, there was no negligence on part of the Hospital authorities”, the official said.
Justice K A Puj’s Panel
On August 11, the State Government had set up a judicial inquiry commission headed by Retired Gujarat High Court Judge K A Puj, to probe the fire incident at the hospital. The commission was expected to submit its findings in three months.
The term of the commission ended on November 11, and it is yet to submit its report on the incident. The commission was supposed to bring out the details of the incident, identify those who were responsible for the loss of eight patients and other injuries and seek remedial measures to prevent such incidents in the future.
Minister of State for home and law Pradipsinh Jadeja told TOI, “The commission has yet not submitted its report. I will check the status of the inquiry report.”
Fire Safety Equipment
Soon after the incident, on August 10 the Chief Electrical Inspector H H Khoja submitted to the State Government that a staggering 76% of hospitals of the 365 Covid 19 designated hospitals in Gujarat were found to have defective wiring and overloading issues, making them extremely susceptible to fire caused due to short circuits.
On November 28, Times of India reported that around 11% of the hospitals in Ahmedabad lack fire safety equipment. The Municipal Commissioner had ordered the fire department to carry out checks on all Covid Hospitals to see if their fire safety facilities are in a proper condition.
Ahmedabad, at the moment, has 99 hospitals that are treating Covid patients. Fire NOC for Covid hospitals are mandatory too, but was not strictly implemented until the Shrey Hospital fire incident. Fire Department officials have apprised the media that once the 99 hospitals are thoroughly inspected, it would be clear how many have fire equipment in working condition.
Allegations by victim’s family
Before the police investigation was handed over to ACP Patel, an FIR had already been registered on August 10 under the Indian Penal Code sections of 304 A (causing death by negligence), 336 (endangering life or personal safety), 337 (causing hurt by negligent or rash act endangering life) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering human life).
SabrangIndia had reported about the despair amongst the family members of the victim who perished in the fire. Human Rights Advocate Suhel Tirmizi who lost his wife Ayesha in the incident informed SabrangIndia that the charges against the perpetrators were not serious enough. As per him, the hospital owner and others were just booked under section 304 A of the IPC instead of 304 which deals with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
The punishment stipulated under section 304 is more than section 304A which is a mere 2-year period or fine or both. The other issue raised was that the CCTV cameras in the hospital were not functioning, and the one that was, its view was blocked by an opaque curtain. Moreover, fire-fighting equipment was neither available in the ICU, nor were staff trained to handle it. It has also been alleged that the mobile phones of a few victims were missing. Investigation of all these claims are still underway.
As fate would have it, Gujarat reported another tragic fire incident at Rajkot’s Uday Shivananda Hospital where five Covid 19 patients were killed on November 27. A three judge Bench of the Supreme Court has taken suo moto cognisance of the fire and sought responses from the State of Gujarat and Centre.
Another fatal inferno in Gujarat Covid hospital!
SC takes suo moto cognisance of Rajkot Covid Hospital fire
Shrey Hospital case: Victims’ families demand CBI inquiry
Ayesha Tirmizi was recovering when her life was cut short