The death toll of infants at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel institute in Cuttack, Odisha has reached sixty one in two weeks, forcing the government to launch an investigation.

State health minister, Atanu S Nayak on Wednesday, September 2, said that a criminal probe has been ordered into the conduct of three staff members at the Shishu Bhawan, or Children's Home, in Cuttack. Five workers have also been suspended.

A grieving mother outside Shishu Bhavan | Source: The Quint

"A preliminary inquiry found (the staff) had neglected their duty that contributed to the deaths," state's Health Minister Nayak said, without elaborating on the causes of death. Opposition parties, including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), staged protests outside several government hospitals across Odisha, waving flags and shouting slogans against state government officials.

"Infants have died but the chief minister has yet to visit the hospital," said Samir Mohanty, one of the BJP protesters.

A file photo of Odisha health minister Atanu S Nayak | Source: Statesman

Meanwhile, the doctors at the hospital have categorically denied negligence on their part and have blamed the deaths on overstretched facilities. Niranjan Mohanty, a senior official at the hospital, said it was overburdened, admitting up to 50 critically ill children and treating up to 500 outpatients daily.

There have been 5900 deaths in five years, during treatment in the same unit with 407 deaths in OPD and ICU combined in the last three months.

(With inputs from agencies)