NEW DELHI: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, flying in the face of his own government's stand in the courts, has stirred the controversial pot by insisting again that the deaths of scores of children at the Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College were due to encephalitis and not a sudden disruption in the supply of oxygen.

A year after the deaths, Adityanath who had maintained silence about the large number of deaths in his home constituency, even as doctors blamed for them languished in jails, has now attributed the “news” to the “internal politics” of the hospital. In a statement that in effect counters the state government's plea in the courts insisting that the deaths were due to a disruption in oxygen, Adityanath claimed, “I asked people there what the matter really was, and was told there was no such thing... And if the deaths were due to a lack of oxygen, then children put on ventilators would have been the first ones to die. I said there must definitely be something. Where were the figures coming from? Then it emerged that it was internal politics."

His statement comes after those arrested and placed in jail for the better part of a year – including BRD College principal Dr Rajeev Misra and Dr Kafeel Khan – have finally secured release on bail. Dr Khan paid a heavy price, as reported by the Citizen, for trying to arrange oxygen cylinders for the impacted children at the time, with his brother shot at, and several cases filed against members of his family. Dr Misra who was arrested along with his wife and only recently released on bail, is in and out of hospital for treatment of chronic disease.

While Dr Khan's bail petition did not come up for hearing, in Dr Misra’s case the Allahabad High Court had rejected bail, noting very clearly that “After having heard both sides and persual of record it is clear that according to the FIR there are serious allegations made against the present accused whose conduct as narrated above, has revealed that he could not ensure the supply of liquid oxygen which led to the death of children admitted in the BRD Medical College, by not making timely payment to M/s Pushpa Sales Pvt Ltd despite the fact that he had sufficient funds available at his end which were allowed to lapse because of his own mistakes or the mistakes of his subordinates as per the evidence which has come on record.”

And again, ”Because he, being head of the institution, ought to have taken care to ensure uninterrupted supply of such essential items as liquid oxygen which is a life saving item which has resulted in the loss of life of several children.”

But the CM who even during a visit to the hospital at the time of the crisis last year had insisted it had little to do with oxygen supply, and addressing Khan at the time with a “we will see you” sort of threat, has now added the dimension of “internal politics.” Dr Purak Mishra who spent a year and left his job to fight his parents' legal battles said, “If everything was just ‘internal politics’ and children didn’t die because of oxygen, then why were people jailed for a year? The whole of Gorakhpur knows who all were involved in internal politics. Why did the government decide to make scapegoats of us?”

Dr Khan, equally bewildered over the CM's statement, asked, “How has he given this statement? Is he not playing politics on the graves of children. Why did he not say this the past year, when his government was opposing bail on grounds of the disrupted oxygen supply.” Khan has been categorical from the first day, a statement he did not change despite eight months in jail, that the children died of the snap in oxygen supply. As he explained oxygen is the lifeline of encephalitis patients as well, and when this dipped to danger levels and then stopped, lives were lost.

Adityanath has received flak in his home constituency for the deaths in what is a prominent government hospital, and for his subsequent handling of the crisis. His statement, after the accused have acquired bail, is being seen as a political stunt by the UP opposition parties, with Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP P.L. Punia maintaining that “The chief minister, in order to hide his failures, is trying to find new excuses. His statement that the deaths in the medical college did not take place due to shortage of oxygen is laughable, especially when his own government had arrested the owner of the firm which supplied oxygen to the medical college."