Bhubaneswar: Admitting lapses by hospital and security staff that led to a tribal man in Kalahandi to walk 10 km with his wife's corpse on his shoulder, the Odisha government on Friday said stringent action would be taken against the guilty.
"It (the incident) is very distressing. We have ordered an inquiry and stringent action will be taken against those who are responsible," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said in Bengaluru where he is attending Odisha Investors Meet, 2016.
District Collector of Kalahandi Brundha D told reporters at Bhawanipatna that the probe report showed there were "lapses and negligence" on the part of the staff of district headquarter hospital, where the woman was undergoing treatment, and the security agency. Action would be taken against those found responsible for the incident after fixing responsibility, she said, adding steps would also be taken to improve facilities at the hospital.
The collector, who had ordered an inquiry into the 24 August incident, also said Dana Majhi had left the hospital with his wife's body in the wee hours of Wednesday without informing anyone at the hospital.
The hospital, she said, has a hearse but nobody informed the personnel concerned about the death of the woman or the need to carry the body to his village.
The district administration had called the man and recorded his statement, the collector said.
Majhi, however, told reporters that he approached the hospital staff but they paid no heed. "I did not want to keep the body of my wife at the hospital for long and left the place for cremation as per tribal rituals at our village," he said.
Asked how Majhi was called to Bhawanipatna without being allowed to properly perform a special tribal ritual held on the third day of death, sub-collector Sukanta Tripathy said it was essential to record Majhi's statement for the inquiry. "Moreover, we also wanted to give the media an opportunity to speak to him and get his version," he said.
The incident triggered nation-wide outcry after Majhi, accompanied by his 12-year-old daughter, was seen walking with his wife's body on his shoulder on being allegedly denied a hearse by the hospital.
An ambulance was arranged only after he had covered 10 km to take the body to his home at Melghara village, about 60 km from Bhawanipatna.
Taking suo motu cognisance of the incident, National Human Rights Commission issued notice to the state government seeking a report, while Odisha Human Rights Commission sent notice to the district collector and chief district medical officer of Kalahandi asking them to submit a report on the episode.
The ruling BJD described the incident as shameful and unfortunate. "There can be no excuse as the incident was shameful. However, government is not trying to shield anyone. Stringent action will be taken against those found guilty," BJD spokesperson Pratap Keshari Deb said.
Congress, which burnt effigies of the chief minister and the health minister here during the day, demanded resignation of both for the "inhuman" incident on moral ground.
Alleging that health services in the state had collapsed, Odisha PCC President Prasad Harichandan told reporters that following the "inhuman" incident both the chief minister and health minister have the lost moral right to remain in office and must step down forthwith. Harichandan said a fact-finding team of Congress would visit Kalahandi tomorrow.
Congress supporters also gheraoed the office of chief district medical officer at Bhawanipatna demanding Rs 10 lakh compensation for Majhi's family.
A large number of party supporters took part in the protest organised by Kalahandi district Congress. The incident also drew protests from other political parties, including BJP and Samajwadi Party which staged demonstrations in the state capital and demanded adequate compensation for the bereaved family.
Terming the incident as "shameful and inhuman", BJP leader Sajjan Sharma and Samajwadi Party state president Rabi Behera said the dignity of the dead must be maintained.
The CPI state unit demanded dismissal of the collector and CDMO of Kalahandi, saying they should be held responsible for the "inhuman" incident.
"As the district collector and CDMO had not sent the ambulance to carry the body of Dana Majhi's wife, they should be punished," CPI state secretary Dibakar Nayak said in a statement.