A preliminary inquiry by a high-level committee of the district administration into the running of a shelter home here has found that not five but six children died there in the past five days, an official said on Thursday.

The committee’s report has also raised questions over over-admission, “irregularities” concerning the management of the private-run facility for special children and a cholera outbreak there. Until Wednesday, officials had the information that five children from the shelter home, which has now been served a show-cause notice, had died and nearly 50 were hospitalized over suspected food poisoning.

Ankit Garg (8) was the first child to die at the Shri Yugpurush Dham Bal Ashram, run by an NGO in the city’s Malharganj area, said an official, who is a part of the probe committee. Garg died on the intervening night of June 29 and 30.
But his body was handed over to his family and buried after allegedly hiding the information about his death from the authorities, said the official.

“The Ashram management did not inform the administration about the death of this child. His body was handed over to his kin and buried at a local cremation ground,” the official said.

The Ashram management claimed that the eight-year-old died of epilepsy, but it could not be confirmed, the official said.
Asked about the cause of Garg’s death, Indore Collector Ashish Singh told PTI, “Post-mortem could not be conducted as the administration was not informed about the death of this child by the Ashram management. Therefore, it cannot be said now what may have caused his death.” The collector said he has issued a notice to the Ashram management asking them why a criminal case should not be registered against them for concealing information about Garg’s death and other “irregularities”.
Based on the interim probe report of the high-level committee, the Ashram management has been asked to reply to the notice within three days and appropriate action will be taken after receiving their reply, he said.

Festive offer

Singh said the investigation has also exposed the admission of more children beyond the capacity of the shelter home, improper maintenance of medical records and other irregularities in the maintenance of the Ashram. So, some children are being considered to be shifted to other institutions, he said. The institute has a total of 204 inmates, including orphans and those suffering from mental ailments. Despite repeated attempts, Ashram’s principal Anita Sharma could not be contacted.
Four children died inside the Ashram between July 1 and July 2 after suffering from vomiting and diarrhea, while another passed away on June 30 allegedly due to seizures, officials said.

With the revelation of the death of another child on the intervening night of June 29 and 30, the number of children who lost their lives at the Ashram has risen to six, they said. Officials said 60 children of the shelter home have been admitted to the city-run Chacha Nehru Children’s Hospital and three of them are in critical condition.

Singh said, “We have not been able to know the exact source of infection, but on the basis of the initial investigation report, it is certain that the health of most of the children at the Ashram deteriorated due to a cholera outbreak.” An official, who is part of the probe panel, said a doctor from the district hospital had found symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea in two children of the Ashram on June 27, but the management did not inform the administration.

“Surprisingly, it was only when the district administration team reached the Ashram for a check-up on July 2 that the two children were admitted to the hospital along with other sick children,” he said. These children are mentally very weak and cannot even narrate their ordeal, the official added.