The 13 kilo litre liquid oxygen tank that was installed at Dr Zakir Hussain hospital in Nashik had been in use only for the last 21 days before a malfunction in one of its valves led to disruption in oxygen supply, leading to the death of 24 people on Wednesday.
The tanks had been built by Taiyo Nippon Sanso Private Limited as part of a contract awarded by the Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC) to set up such tanks on a rental basis in two Covid-19 facilities in the city.
Under the contract, NMC had to pay Rs 1.62 crore to rent the tanks and Rs 2 crore to refill them for a period of 10 years. A contract with these terms was sent to the company last September.
Work on the project, however, was slow and with Covid-19 cases subsiding in the latter half of 2020, work had come to a standstill. The BJP-controlled NMC started paying heed to the project only when cases in Nashik started spiking in March, when it reported the highest number of fresh cases per million population. In March, Nashik had recorded 46,050 new cases per million of its population – the highest in the country.
It was after local activists and doctors started comparing that work on the project was expedited and the system was commissioned on March 31.
“It is a criminal waste of public resources that such a vital system needed for maintaining the health of Covid-19 patients was operationalised five months after the contract was handed over. What is surprising is the fact that the system could not function properly even for three weeks and broke down,” Ahmed Kazi, a social activist.
NMC officials claimed that a technical assessment of the system had been conducted before it was commissioned. “When we began using the tanker from March 31, a team from their company had come for technical assessment. They had tested everything before giving a go-ahead to operate the tanker. Since it is a multi-national company, we trusted them,” NMC Medical Officer Dr Bapusaheb Nagargoje said.
Asked how the system could fail within days of it being commissioned, NMC Commissioner Kailash Jadhav said that it would be probed if there was any dereliction of duty on the part of the contractor. “We will investigate if the company failed to perform its duties.”
Officials of Taiyo Nippon Sanso did not respond to calls.
The hospital, located in the minority-dominated Kathrada locality abutting the bustling Mumbai-Agra highway, was set up in the mid 1990s. There have been frequent complaints about it not having adequate medical facilities and staff.
It was one of the five dedicated Covid-19 facilities set up last year. Subsequently, three of the centres were shut down and the hospital was among the two that were still operational. Over 6,000 patients have been treated at the facility since the pandemic began last year.