NEW DELHI — Indian police have arrested the director of a drug manufacturing firm that allegedly supplied medication to women in a mass sterilization that left 13 dead, news reports said Friday.
Press Trust of India reported that Ramesh Mahawar of Mahawar Pharma Pvt Ltd and his son were arrested and charged with fraud. Police Superintendent O.P. Pal told PTI that the men were arrested on the complaint of food and drug administration officials.
A total of 83 women underwent surgeries as part of a government-run campaign Saturday and were sent home that evening. Dozens became ill and were rushed to hospitals, where at least 13 of them died. Dozens others are still being treated.
Dr. R.K. Gupta, who authorities said performed all the operations in six hours in a breach of government protocol that prohibits surgeons from performing more than 30 sterilizations in a day, was arrested on Wednesday. He blamed tainted drugs for the deaths.
Authorities were investigating whether spurious antibiotics and painkillers were responsible. No autopsy details have been made available. Phone calls to several local government officials went unanswered.
The government of Chhattisgarh state, where the deaths took place, has appointed a retired judge to head a probe into the deaths, a government statement said Friday.
Experts say the deaths are the result of a lack of medical oversight in India's broken public health system and sterilization targets set by the Indian government as part of its efforts to control its booming population.
India says it stopped setting targets for sterilizing women in the 1990s. But doctors and human rights workers say targets still exist and lead to coercion in villages where most people have limited access to education and health care.
Sterilizations continue to be the most popular method of birth control in India, with many women opting for them because a one-time operation can help them take charge of their fertility.
But incentives and government quotas cause doctors to pressure patients into surgery rather than advising them on other contraception options.
India has one of the world's highest rates of sterilizations among women, with about 37 percent undergoing such operations. About 4.6 million Indian women were sterilized in 2011 and 2012, according to the government.
Cultural taboos keep men from opting for vasectomies. Less than 1 percent of men choose to undergo the procedure.