Gorakhpur: Three more children succumbed to encephalitis on Sunday at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College hospital in Gorakhpur, taking the death toll to 70, news agency ANI reported.
The BRD Medical College specified that 34 were babies who died at the neo-natal intensive care unit, while 12 died because of encephalitis. The rest died of other unspecified causes.
Reports have said some of the deaths were caused due to an oxygen shortage after a private supplier withdrew its equipment over unpaid hospital dues.
It was also alleged that the hospital did not provide ambulances to take back the bodies of the children. Reporters of Manorama News saw the heart-wrenching scene of parents holding on to the lifeless bodies of their children and riding pillion on the bike. Some of them had to call autorickshaws and jeeps to take the bodies home.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath Saturday night insisted that oxygen shortage did not lead to the death of the children.
He told a hurriedly convened press conference here that a committee led by the chief secretary will probe the entire matter related to the tragic deaths.
"It is a very emotional matter for me as I have been raising the issue of encephalitis since long," he said, adding prime minister Narendra Modi has also expressed concern.
The government will take action on the report of the magisterial inquiry which will be received soon, Adityanath said, promising that no one will be allowed to go scot-free and stern action will be taken against those responsible.
On reports that oxygen shortage had caused the deaths, he said if it were the case, it would have been a "heinous act".
The chief minister said he had asked the officials during his August 9 meeting about the issues such as encephalitis, dengue, kala-azar, swine flu and chikunguniya besides what all they required.
But, the matter relating to oxygen supply was not brought to his notice, he said.
Blaming the principal of the college for the delay in payment to the gas supplier, he said, "I have been told that the principal left soon after the (August 9) meeting without informing the authorities and has been found prima facie responsible. He has been suspended."
Referring to the letter of the oxygen vendor that supply will be stopped, the chief minister said funds were released from the government on August 5 itself and the principal should have made immediate payment.
"It is wrong to say that the supplier wrote to everyone. He wrote to the principal, who in turn wrote to DG health and funds were released on August 5...When money was sent, whose folly is it -- the minister's or the principal's that payment was not made," the chief minister asked.
His comment came in the backdrop of strident criticism of the minister by opposition parties which demanded his resignation.
Health minister Singh gave a detailed account of the deaths, stressing that none of them had been caused due to disruption of oxygen supply.
Though the minister admitted that the pressure of oxygen supply was low for two hours on August 11, he said no death was reported during that period.
UP medical education minister Ashutosh Tandon furnished details of the funds released for making payment to the supplier and blamed the principal for delay in clearing the dues.
"Can any company stop the supply of life saving oxygen under any circumstances?" Tandon asked.
(With inputs from Reuters/PTI)