Expert report on ‘dark hour deaths’ fails to do justice

| OCTOBER 18, 2021, 11:24 PM IST

A three-member committee constituted by the State government to probe the "dark hour" deaths at Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMC) in May this year has spoken in two voices. One, it said that GMC witnessed a severe oxygen shortage and failed to respond in time to avert the crisis. Second, it said there is no data to establish that a large number of deaths were due to oxygen shortage or that the intermittent incidents of pressure drop were not long enough to cause loss of life.  

The 35-page report titled "GMC Oxygen Assessment Report" by Dr B B Mishra, Dr V N Jindal and Sanjay Kumar have solely blamed the GMC for lapses in oxygen handling, and mismanagement, and held that the distribution system needs to be studied by experts. But the larger and more critical question has gone unanswered: Who is responsible for these deaths? If the deaths are not connected to oxygen shortage/supply, how did these people die? The expert committee was expected to answer this key aspect. Pulling up GMC over oxygen supplies, a fact already in the public domain, is secondary if the experts believe that deaths are not connected to oxygen supply.

The experts have cited a lack of data to link the deaths to oxygen shortage leaving us to wonder if the report has bailed out those at the helm who were accused of negligence, insensitivity and mishandling of the situation. Goa cannot forget the helplessness and the shrieks of families that echoed in through the corridors of the hospitals, crying out for help. We cannot forget the oxygen monitors that beeped and flashed continuously in the background as midnight struck, taking precious lives.

If we may recall, a total of 75 people died within four days in early May, and 26 of these deaths happened in a single night in what was referred to by the High Court as the "dark hours". Also, the government had argued in High Court that there was no shortage of oxygen, but admitted to logical issues in manoeuvring and connecting cylinders to manifold which led to a loss of time and subsequently drop in pressure in supply lines. The health minister had admitted there is a shortfall in supply and had even sought a probe.

The expert committee has wriggled out of a tight situation by patting a few on the back, including GMC and oxygen suppliers, and has effectively played its diplomacy with a two-sided narrative. By not directly fixing responsibility for the deaths, a lot has been left open, and justice has not been done to those who have lost their lives. This is why there is always a lack of confidence on a government-handpicked committee, and which is why sensitive issues like these need a judicial probe.

Sadly, a team of experts led by an IITian and with one of Goa's reputed ex-dean have failed to bring clarity and justice to a time zone that shook the collective conscience of the entire State.

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