Delhi Hospital Fire: ‘Illegal’ Oxygen Cylinder Refilling, Unqualified Doctors — What Led to Massive Blaze That Killed 7 Babies

Baby Care New Born Hospital
Baby Care New Born HospitalPhoto: Hindustan Times

New Delhi: The catastrophic fire at Baby Care New Born Child Hospital in East Delhi has plunged many into a state of mourning and outrage. The blaze, which erupted late Saturday (May 25) night, claimed the lives of seven newborns and left five others injured, exposing severe and unforgivable lapses in the hospital's operations.

Despite its license expiring on March 31, the hospital continued to operate illegally, admitting 12 newborns when it was authorized for only five beds. This glaring violation is just one of many.

The hospital lacked basic fire safety measures, including emergency exits and fire extinguishers. Furthermore, the facility did not possess the necessary fire clearance from the Delhi Fire Services department, which confirmed that the building had no NOC (No Objection Certificate).

The doctors on duty were not qualified to handle neonatal intensive care. They held degrees in Ayurvedic medicine (BAMS) rather than specialized qualifications necessary for treating critically ill newborns.

This gross incompetence, coupled with overstocked oxygen cylinders, turned the hospital into a death trap.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Shahdara) Surendra Choudhary highlighted these grave deficiencies, emphasizing that the presence of more oxygen cylinders than authorized contributed to the rapid spread of the fire.

“We came to know that the NOC of the hospital had also expired on March 31, and it had permission for up to five beds but they had installed more than 10 beds. Apart from this, they did not have a fire exit system. So in view of all this, we have added sections 304 and 308 of IPC in FIR and arrested its director, Dr. Naveen Kichi. One of the doctors, who was on duty, Dr. Akash, has also been arrested. The accused have three such clinics in Delhi,” the officer told ANI.

The fire, which began at around 11:32 pm, quickly intensified as the cylinders exploded, making the situation uncontrollable.

Dr Khichi, owner of the hospital who managed several similar facilities across the national capital, was apprehended after being on the run. His arrest, along with another doctor on duty at the time of the fire, has intensified the investigation.

His track record is marred by a scandal in 2021, when a nurse was caught on camera assaulting a newborn, fracturing the baby’s hand. This incident had already cast a shadow over the hospital’s reputation, raising serious concerns about its operational standards, regulation and enforcement.

Local residents and members of the non-profit organisations such as Shaheed Seva Dal were the first to respond. Eyewitnesses recounted the heroic efforts of these individuals who scaled compound walls and climbed the building’s rear to rescue the trapped newborns.

Despite their bravery, the inferno claimed seven innocent lives before fire department officials and police could bring it under control.

The police are also investigating a claim from a nearby resident who alleged that unauthorized oxygen cylinder refilling work was being conducted in the building. The resident stated that he had complained to the police but no action was taken, forcing him to move out of the lane where the hospital is located due to this “illegal” activity.

The Mooknayak attempted to contact the Health and Family Department of the Government of Delhi but received no response. Similarly, when approached, Inspector Om Prakash of the Vivek Vihar Police Station declined to comment at this time.

Increasing Incidents

Delhi has experienced 66 hospital fire incidents over the last two years, with 30 occurring in 2022 and 36 in 2021, according to the Times of India (TOI). The latest incident on February 26 at Nayak Hospital in Central Delhi required the evacuation of more than 50 people, highlighting the significant strain these emergencies place on firefighting resources.

Atul Garg, director of Delhi Fire Service, highlighted that hospital fires are among the most demanding challenges for their team.

“Responding to hospital fires demands extra personnel and time to evacuate patients while simultaneously combating the blaze,” he told TOI. The presence of patients with varying degrees of mobility complicates the evacuation process, requiring tailored emergency plans.

In previous incidents, firefighters have rescued 20 infants from a newborn hospital in Dwarka and evacuated over 100 patients from an endoscopy unit at AIIMS. Fire officials stressed on difficulties they face while evacuating patients from children’s hospitals.

“Unlike standard fire rescues, firefighters cannot use ladders or physically carry people. This requires meticulous coordination between hospital staff and responders to ensure patient safety during evacuation, prioritizing their well-being and minimizing harm,” Garg explained.

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