VIJAYAWADA: A day after a fire at Swarna Palace hotel claimed the lives of 10 Covid-19 victims, the Vijayawada police on Monday arrested three management staff of Ramesh Hospitals, which was using the hotel as a Covid Care Centre, holding them responsible for safety lapses.
The three arrested are chief operating officer (COO) Dr Kodali Rajagopala Rao, general manager Kurapathi Sudarshan and Covid Care Centre coordinating manager Pallabothu Venkatesh. The police had on Sunday registered cases under Sections 304 (II) and 308 R/W 34 of the IPC against the managements of the hospital and the hotel.
Vijayawada City Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP-South Zone) N Surya Chandra Rao said the COO of Ramesh Hospitals played a major role in taking the hotel on lease and failed to check the fire safety mechanism. He said the general manager and coordinating manager were responsible for the patients’ safety. “It is their duty to check and put in place fire safety mechanisms as they charge lakhs of rupees from patients,” said Surya Chandra Rao. He further said they have identified the role of others in the incident and more people will be arrested.
Meanwhile, the police are conducting raids on all hotels rented by Ramesh Hospitals in the city, and are keeping a tab on activities of other hospitals and hotels. Searches were also carried out at the residence of Swarna Palace owner Mutthavarapu Srinivas Rao, and hard disks and copies of agreements pertaining to the lease of hotels to use them as Covid Care Centres were reportedly seized.
Simultaneously, the five-member committee appointed by Krishna Collector A Md Imtiaz to probe the mishap inspected the hotel to ascertain the reasons for the fire.
The committee headed by Joint Collector (Welfare) L Siva Shankar, accompanied by AP Central Power Distribution Company Limited (APCPDCL) deputy electrical engineer Ramesh reached the accident spot around noon. Members of the committee collected a hard disk and CCTV footage of the ground floor near the reception, where the fire broke out and spread to the first and second floors.
“We carried out a thorough inspection at the accident spot. The inquiry was done on three aspects: whether safety measures were in place, whether the Covid-19 protocol was followed and the cause of the accident. APCPDCL officials inspected the rooms and checked the electricity connections as preliminary investigation reports suggested a short circuit caused the fire,” Siva Shankar said.
Meanwhile, two other committees appointed by the state government also intensified their investigation. One of the committee members inspected Hotel Swarna Heights and Swarna Palace, which were taken on lease by Ramesh Hospitals to run Covid Care Centres, while the other panel members inspected the fire safety measures followed by other care centres run by private hospitals.
Meanwhile, Ramesh Hospitals MD Dr P Ramesh Babu said that for the past six months, like other private hospitals, they too have reduced OP services.
“As the number of cases started increasing, the administration asked even private hospitals to start treating Covid-19 patients. We trained our staff at two of our branches.
"As the number of cases rose, we could not cater to even 10 per cent of the patients who arrived. Several government officials and public representatives approached us and we got permission from the Collector and DMHO to set up Covid Care Centres in hotels,” he said, adding that the agreement was that the hotel staff will take care of hospitality and medical staff would treat the patients.