Doc blames bad drugs for sterilisation deaths; toll mounts to 14

The doctor whose female sterilisation operations on 83 women in less than three hours resulted in at least 14 deaths in Chhatisgarh's Bilaspur district said today that the operations were his moral responsibility, but blamed adulterated drugs rather than faulty procedure for the tragedy.

Dr R K Gupta, who was arrested late on Wednesday, said he has conducted more than 50,000 such operations, and denied reports that his equipment was rusty or dirty. He also said it was the government's duty to control the number of people that turned up at his family planning "camp".

 "It is up to the administration to decide how many women would be kept for operation," a visibly upset Gupta told Reuters from the police station where he is being held. He faces charges of causing death by negligence.

If they kept in that place 83 women, it is my moral responsibility to operate (on) all the women. If I declined to do that I would have faced public agitation," said Gupta, who was honoured by state's Raman Singh government on 26 January this year for conducting a record number of female sterilizations.

He received a state honour 10 years back as well for his sterilization work, but has now been suspended from government service.

Meanwhile, a team of specialist doctors has reached the Chhatishgarh capital of Raipur from Hyderabad. They will assist in the treatment of the sterilized women - apart from the 14 who have died following tubectomies in two separate government camps within two days in Bilaspur.

Gupta said health workers gave the women ciprofloxacin, a commonly prescribed antibiotic, and ibuprofen, a pain killer, after the operations, which were conducted in a grimy room of an unused private hospital in a village called Pandari in Chhattisgarh.

Some of the sick women were operated on by a different doctor at a second camp on Monday. Gupta said this was evidence he was not to blame.

"I am not the culprit. I have been made scapegoat. It is the administration which is responsible for this incident," he said, speaking in a dimly lit police hostel room after being taken into custody from a friend's house on Wednesday night.

The government of Chhattisgarh banned five batches of drugs and a batch of surgical cotton wool on Wednesday pending further investigations.

State government officials who run the sterilization programme are often pressed to meet quotas.

Protocols state that doctors should spend at least 15 minutes on each operation and perform a maximum of 30 in a day. Several doctors told Reuters it was common to perform up to 90 sterilizations a day, leaving little time or scope to maintain hygiene.

Gupta said it was the responsibility of the government to clean the clinic, which police say was filthy, and to provide him with more instruments. Asked why he didn't complain, Gupta said the conditions were normal and he kept his equipment clean.

He said allegations by a senior government official that the tools were rusty were untrue and that he wore gloves and a gown.

"They are dipped in spirit after an operation and then reused. If I feel it is not working well I change it. I do about 10 operations with the same knife. Towel clips are also reused after being dipped in spirit," he said.

Police say the room used as an operating theatre was hung with cobwebs, and that the fast turnover of operations meant there was no time to change bloodied sheets. Activists say the rushed nature of the programme meant disaster was almost inevitable at some point.

"It's a mystery," Gupta said of the deaths. "I never came across any such complications in the past."