Kolkata: 90 persons mostly patients choked to death when a major fire engulfed a multi-speciality centrally-airconditioned seven-storey 190-bed AMRI private hospital in the metropolis early on Friday.

Kolkata Mayor blames Hospital for fire

"Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation," Fire Service and Disaster Management Minister Javed Khan told reporters here.

Industrialist S K Modi and five others on the board of the hospital in Dhakuria in south Kolkata have been arrested for culpable homicide, negligence and other charges, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters.

Joint Commissioner of Police Shivaji Ghosh said 90 persons died in the incident. These included a Bangladeshi national and two Congress leaders -- former AICC member Ajoy Ghoshal and former MLA from Shyampur in Howrah district Sisir Sen --both of whom were admitted for treatment.

The fire in the annexe building of the hospital was detected at around 3:30 AM by local people who rushed to the gates, but were driven away by the security guards, following which the fire spread swiftly, West Bengal Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said.

The Lake police station was first informed at 4:10 with the fire brigade started arriving at the AMRI Hospital at Dhakuria within ten minutes, Khan said.

"Smoke was carried through AC ducts and it was luck that oxygen cylinders could be removed from the fire zone," he said.

As smoke billowed out, firemen using ladders with platforms smashed window panes in the facade of the building to rescue patients trapped inside the ICU, ICCU, Intensive Therapy Unit and Critical Care units.

The firemen evacuated patients with pulleys from the upper floors as they were not in a condition to be taken down by ladders put up by the fire brigade all around the building.

Action against hospital

Banerjee, who visited the hospital, ordered a probe. She also directed cancellation of licence of the hospital.

"As per my announcement that offenders will be apprehended, six persons, including S K Todi, have been arrested," she said.

Besides Todi, R S Goenka, Ravi Goenka, Manish Goenka, Prasanta Goenka and Dayananda Agarwal on the board of the hospital were also arrested.

Seven people have been charged with negligence, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and attempt to culpable homicide, a senior police official said.

Relatives of victims complained that there was inordinate delay in the rescue operations. They also alleged that the medical staff at the hospital fled from the spot instead of rescuing the patients.

Biswas said that patients who died were admitted in the critical care and orthopaedic units and were unable to move.

Among the casualties was four staff members, Senior Vice-President S Upadhay said.
The fire which was suspected to have originated in the electrical department in the basement of the building swiftly spread, with the third floor and above being affected the most, fire brigade sources said.

Fire Services Minister Javed Khan said the fire spread because of stocks of highly combustible material and though it was controlled the smoke caused problems.
The hospital also did not have proper fire-fighting equipment, he said.

Khan said that the doctors, nurses and the hospital staff escaped immediately after fire began sweeping the floors one by one.

Bangladesh High Commission spokesman Enamul Hoque Chowdhury said that a 65-year-old Bangladeshi national identified as Gouranga Mondal died in the incident.

Among the casualties were four staff members of AMRI Hospital, its Senior Vice-President S Upadhay said.

The hospital had been warned in September about the basement and it gave an undertaking to comply with it, but did not do so, Banerjee said.

Mamata, hospital announce compensation


The Chief Minister said that the hospital has been closed and would be sealed by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation after completion of rescue operations. The state government announced compensation of Rs three lakh each to the next of kin of the victims and offered employment if needed.

AMRI Hospital announced Rs 5 lakh as compensation for the next of kin of those who died, while those injured would be treated free at the hospital. All dues of those admitted when the fire broke out would be waived. The fire which originated in the electrical department in the basement of the building swiftly spread, fire brigade sources said.

The Disaster Management minister said "The basement housed medicine shops, a car park, hospital waste and the oncology department for which permission was not obtained."
Even the rear building of the hospital was an unauthorised structure, Khan alleged.

Khan said that a team of National Disaster Rescue Force arrived from Madhyamgram and checked the basement for radiation, but found no leak.

Additional Director General, Fire Services, D Biswas said that the fire brigade arrived on time, but relatives of victims alleged that there was inordinate delay in the rescue operations.

Biswas said that patients who died were admitted in the critical care and orthopaedic units and were unable to move.
Khan said the fire spread because of stocks of highly combustible material and though it was controlled the smoke caused problems.

The hospital also did not have proper fire-fighting equipment, he said. The AMRI Vice-President, however, contended that the hospital had proper fire-fighting equipment and licence and fire drills were held regularly. But, the ADG Fire Services said, if proper fire fighting arrangements existed at the hospital, such a blaze could not have taken place.
The Chief Minister urged angry relatives of the victims to go to the state-run SSKM Hospital to identify the bodies.

Wielding lathis, police chased away people who tried to approach Banerjee outside the hospital, but she instructed the cops not to resort to such action.

Upadhay said there were 164 patients in the building at the time of the fire. 94 patients who were rescued were shifted to other AMRI and other nearby hospitals.

Hakim said that 250 firemen in 25 fire engines battled the blaze and smoke with a police cordon thrown around the hospital.

Family members of patients vandalised the reception counter aggrieved that no list of the dead and injured was provided. They smashed glass panes at the reception and threw away hospital registers.

Governor M K Narayanan expressed shock and hoped that the state government would take necessary steps to identify the causes of the fire and initiate appropriate action.

Meanwhile, KMC DG (Building) said that during sanction of the building plan in 2004, the basement was shown for use partly for parking and partly for setting up of a radiotherapy unit.

But, later the basement was used as a storeroom and generators and the AC plant was also located there.

It was also decided that two survey teams of fire services department would fan out from tomorrow to study if nursing homes and hospitals were equipped with fire-fighting equipment and if they did not their licences would be cancelled and arrests made if necessary, Khan said.

The teams would be headed by DG (Fire Services) D P Tarania and ADG (Fire Services) D P Biswas.

To a question, he said prima facie, the fire was caused by an electrical short-circuit. "But there may be some other factors."

(Agencies)