At around 4 pm on 10 August, hours before the oxygen supply at a hospital affiliated to Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College ran out, I received a WhatsApp message. The message showed a photo of a letter, written by the operators of the hospital’s oxygen-supply plant, warning the authorities that the supply was running dangerously low. “If oxygen is not arranged immediately,” the operators wrote, “it would threaten the lives of the patients admitted in all the wards.” After verifying this information with a couple of sources at the hospital, I published this story on the local-news website I run, Gorakhpur Newsline, at around 5 pm. The letter had also reached some print publications, but by the time the report appeared in newspapers the next day, 23 children and 8 adults had lost their lives.
The incident drew wide attention from both local and national media. However, within a few days of the tragedy, the coverage had lost its bearings. The details—what had caused the event and who was responsible for it—were obscured by many media outlets, perhaps deliberately. Since I have been reporting on the incident, I have talked to dozens of people associated with it and accessed several documents related to it. The information I have gathered can help construct a detailed chronology of what preceded the tragedy. This account makes it clear that the deaths happened because of negligence at several levels, including those of the hospital authorities, government officials and politicians. It also proves that not only have sections of the media helped the government in shielding those responsible, they have even aided it in making a scapegoat of a man who, in all likelihood, was innocent.
In mid July, Pushpa Sales—the company that supplied oxygen to the hospital—wrote letters to hospital and government authorities, including the principal of the medical college, Rajeev Mishra, Gorakhpur’s district magistrate, Rajeev Rautela, the principal secretary for medical education, Anita Jain Bhatnagar, and the director general of medical education, KK Gupta. These letters point to the fact that, for at least six months, the hospital run by the Uttar Pradesh government had been irregular in its payments to Pushpa Sales, which itself obtained oxygen from INOX Air Products, a company based in Worli, Mumbai. In a letter dated 18 July, Dipankar Sharma, an executive at Pushpa Sales, wrote: