The Maharashtra government has set up a committee to probe the passing of over 30 people, including infants, in state-run hospitals Lal Singh brings bring his wife Nisha Devi, 20, to the post natal ward after giving birth to her first baby, on April 12, 2023 at Bhadson Community Health Centre in Patiala, India. © Elke Scholiers/Getty Images

The Maharashtra government has set up a committee to probe the death of dozens of people, including at least 12 infants, in state-run hospitals after reports in the Indian media caused outrage across the country.

As of Wednesday, the death toll at state-run Shankarrao Chavan Government Hospital in the Nanded district, some 620km east of Mumbai, had reached 35.

Most of the deaths occurred within the previous two days, with 24 people – half of them infants – dying in a single day. At least ten more patients reportedly passed away within a span of 24 hours in another hospital in the Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar (previously Aurangabad) district in Maharashtra, raising concerns over the state of healthcare in Maharashtra.

The state government announced on Tuesday that it had launched an inquiry into the incident. “Why did so many deaths occur in one day? We will investigate if it was because of lack of medicines, or a shortage of staff or some other reason,” Girish Mahajan, a Maharashtra minister, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The latest deaths followed a similar incident in Maharashtra in August, when 18 people admitted to a state-run hospital in the Thane region died over a 24-hour period. Back then, the state government had ordered an inquiry into that incident.

According to Shyamrao Wakode, the dean of the Shankarrao Chavan Government Hospital, where most of the deaths have occurred, the twelve adult patients died of various ailments including diabetes, liver failure, and kidney failure. “There was no shortage of medicines or doctors,” Wakode told the ANI news agency. “Proper care was provided to the patients, but their bodies did not respond to the treatment, which caused deaths.”

However, amid the uproar caused by the reports, a video emerged on Wednesday showing a local MP from the Shiv Sena party, Hemant Patil, allegedly forcing Dr. Wakode to clean a hospital toilet. Hours after the video went viral on social media, the police registered a first information report (FIR) against the MP under several sections of the Indian Penal Code.

According to the Times of India, Patil reached the hospital to make an inspection where he saw first-hand “the shabby state of affairs.” Upset by the “poor infrastructure,” he reportedly made the dean clean the urinals as “it appeared that they had not been cleaned in months.” Patil has also claimed that his “inspection” had revealed multiple violations, including CT-scan and X-ray machines at the hospital being non-operable because of bills not being paid, the report noted.

The incident has also triggered a political storm in India, with India’s main opposition party questioning the federal government over the significant number of deaths in a single day. The state is ruled by an alliance between Shiv Sena, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress posted on X (formerly Twitter) his condolences to the deceased and questioned why there “is no money for medicines for children?”

The reports of numerous fatalities – and particularly infant deaths – in a single state strike a blow to the country’s progress in improving its health indicators. Although the infant mortality rate in India has been declining in recent years, dropping to 27 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020, according to government data, it has remained a concern is still a priority for the country. As per the Sample Registration System (SRS) Statistical Report 2020 released last year, the country has been witnessing a progressive reduction in child mortality and is expected to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030. (RT)