Post Mortem

The UP government’s farcical investigation into the Gorakhpur tragedy

01 June 2018
In April, the Allahabad High Court granted bail to Kafeel Khan—a doctor widely believed to have been framed in the case of the deaths at a Gorakhpur hospital last August.
indian express archive
In April, the Allahabad High Court granted bail to Kafeel Khan—a doctor widely believed to have been framed in the case of the deaths at a Gorakhpur hospital last August.
indian express archive

On 25 April, the Allahabad High Court granted bail to Kafeel Khan—a doctor widely believed to have been framed in the case of the deaths at a Gorakhpur hospital last August. A substantial amount of reporting suggests that many patients—34 children and 18 adults—died because of a shortage of oxygen. The oxygen provider had cut the supply after the administration repeatedly delayed payments. Instead of questioning officials responsible for procuring the oxygen, the state government has accused doctors of medical negligence. “After observing the presented facts,” the judge Yashwant Verma said, “it is the opinion of this court that there is nothing in the records that can prove Dr Kafeel guilty of negligence on an individual level.” Verma added, “The court should also keep in mind that in the affidavit … presented to the court by the state government, shortage of oxygen has not been given as the cause of death.”

The court was pointing out a glaring contradiction in the case against Khan and other doctors. The Uttar Pradesh government has held in court that patients at the BRD Medical College hospital died not because of a shortage of oxygen, but of natural causes. On the other hand, it also accused several doctors of medical negligence. If the state believes patients died of “natural causes,” how can a case be made for medical negligence?

This is just one of many discrepancies in the case against the nine accused in the tragedy. Even the chargesheet filed by the Uttar Pradesh Police reflects this. The police have gone back on its statements multiple times, the identical statements of several witnesses seem clearly scripted, and the evidence furnished to prove charges mostly comprises things “heard” or “seen” by the witnesses. The investigation seems to have been less focussed on identifying the causes and culprits of the tragedy, and more on making scapegoats of those initially accused. While Khan, the doctor Satish Kumar, and Manish Bhandari—the director of the oxygen-supply firm Pushpa Sales—have been given bail, six others are still in jail.

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    Manoj Singh is a journalist based in Gorakhpur. He runs the news website Gorakhpur Newsline.

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