Police have detained a doctor responsible for the death of 13 women after conducting mass sterilisation surgeries in central India, amid anger in a country that has one of the world's highest rate of sterilisation against women.
RK Gupta, who received an award earlier this year for conducting 50,000 laparoscopic sterilisation, was detained for questioning late on Wednesday in Chhattisgarh state, Pawan Deo, the police inspector general, told the AFP news agency.
A total of 83 women, all villagers under the age of 32, were operated on in a total of five hours in a health camp on Saturday. Each woman was paid $23 as part of a government-run sterilisation scheme to reduce the growth of a population that has reached 1.3 billion.
The victims, including over 50 women who remain hospitalised, had suffered vomiting and a dramatic fall in blood pressure after undergoing laparoscopic sterilisation, a process in which the fallopian tubes are blocked.
Police were planning to seize equipment used during the surgeries, Deo said, amid fears that they were infected before the operations were carried out.
|Women dead after mass sterilisation in India
"I am not guilty. I have been performing surgeries for a long time and there has never been any problem," Gupta told reporters in Bilaspur around the time of his arrest.
"I have a history of completing up to 200-300 surgeries in one day," he said, adding: "There are no written guidelines, but what we have been told verbally is that we shouldn't perform more than 30 operations in a day."
He said that all the patients began throwing up and complaining of dizziness and weakness after they were given medication following the operations.
Incentives and targets
SK Mandal, the chief medical officer of Chhattisgarh state, said that Gupta was likely under pressure to achieve his district's target of about 15,000 sterilizations.
Victims' families would each receive a compensation payment of about $6,600, according to Chhattisgarh chief minister, Raman Singh, who blamed the deaths on "negligence" by doctors, but urged for patience until autopsy results were out.
Amar Singh, Chhattisgarh's deputy health director, said preliminary results from autopsies were expected to be released later on Wednesday.
India's government long concerned about its 1.3 billion - and growing - population performs millions of free sterilisation to both women and men who want to avoid the risk and cost of having a baby.
The vast majority of patients are poor women who are usually paid a one-time incentive fee to undergo the surgery.
Activists blame the incentive payments for leading health authorities to pressure patients into surgery rather than advising them on other forms of contraception.
According to 2006 statistics reported by the UN, 37 percent of women in India underwent sterilisation operations, compared with 29 percent in China.
About 4.6 million Indian women were sterilised in 2011 and 2012, according to the government.
Al Jazeera's Faiz Jamil contributed to this report.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies