A fire engulfed the infant care unit of a hospital in central India on Monday night, killing at least four newborn children and injuring others, the latest in a series of deadly blazes at health care centers across the country.
Thirty-six infants survived the fire, the chief minister of the state, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, said in a tweet Tuesday afternoon. The fire was on the third floor of the hospital, Kamla Nehru Hospital, in the central Indian city of Bhopal. Anxious parents waited outside as doctors, nurses and firefighters rushed in to help with the rescue effort.
Vishvas Kailash Sarang, the state’s minister of medical education, said that the children who were injured were receiving treatment and that an inquiry would be started into the cause of the fire. It was unclear how many infants were hurt in the blaze and how serious their injuries were.
Hospital fires have become an epidemic in India, killing dozens this year, but this one touched a nerve because the victims were infants in a critical care unit.
The blaze has also once again highlighted the dire state of India’s inadequate infrastructure and fire safety measures, particularly in government hospitals.
“This is negligence, criminal negligence,” Mr. Chouhan said on Twitter.
Last week, at least 11 people died when a fire broke out in a coronavirus intensive care unit in the western state of Maharashtra. In the spring, at least 18 people were killed in a fire at a Covid ward of a hospital in the western state of Gujarat.
The cause of most fire-related accidents is the same: a short circuit. One study looking into 19 episodes in India since 2011 showed that a majority happened in government hospitals, and almost all were caused by a short-circuit, often related to an overloaded electricity supply.
State governments have been widely criticized for being lax in enforcing building safety rules and for failing to properly outfit buildings with equipment to extinguish blazes. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, fires were responsible for 9,110 deaths and 468 injuries in India in 2020.
Arif Masood, a lawmaker with the opposition Congress party, expressed horror over Monday night’s fire at the children’s unit.
“It was a horrendous accident affecting the most vulnerable,” he said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Masood also criticized the state government for appointing a state official to lead the investigation into the fire rather than a neutral judge.
The promise of investigations provided little solace to young parents who were seen wailing outside the hospital as they waited for updates about their children.
“Which politician is saving our children here?,” one mother, seen in a video clip posted on Twitter by a local journalist, exclaimed through uncontrollable sobs. “Will they rescue and get our children back?”