India has the highest number of child deaths in the world, with an estimated 1.2 million deaths in 2015 — 20 per cent of the 5.9 million global deaths. In the relatively new state of Chhattisgarh, formed in 2000 by carving out 16 Chhattisgarhi-speaking south-eastern districts from the state of Madhya Pradesh, 15,000 children die annually within the first week of their lives and one in every four children under three years of age suffer from wasting due to acute under nutrition.
In order to understand this issue better and investigate the death of an infant a team of activists and lawyers from Human Rights Law Network undertook a visit to the Maharani Hospital as well as interviewed the parents of the dead infant in the last week of April 2016.
In their report, the fact-finding team highlights the following:
1. This is an obvious case of utter negligence by the staff of the Maharani hospital. The family is convinced that they have been treated this way because they are poor. They say that had if this incident had happened to a rich family, then the doctor would’ve been in jail for negligence, and moreover, such an incident might not have taken place in the first instance.
2. The district and state officials are answerable for the seeming lawlessness at the hospital; they have failed to take action on several previous complaints.
3. The police by not registering an FIR have violated the law. As of now no criminal proceedings have been initiated. The police do not have the power to conduct a preliminary inquiry of any sort and is bound to register an FIR under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
4. The SDM who is supposed to have conducted the mandatory disciplinary proceeding/inquiry has not made the family party to the proceedings in violation of the principles of natural justice.
5. The family was supported by the mitanin throughout, however; the mitanin has been subject to a lot of harassment, accusations and mental torture by the hospital staff regarding which she has also complained to the CMHO, Bastar. The family members are unsure about following up the case to ensure fixing of legal liability. At the minimum they expect an apology, an acknowledgment of the negligence and an assurance that such incidents will not happen in the future.
6. The Maharani hospital is literally the lifeline of the region and it was felt by the fact finding team that there is fear of backlash from the hospital if the family or anyone else pursues the matter in court.
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