At least eight women have died and dozens of others are in critical condition after undergoing botched sterilisation surgery, according to local officials.

A total of 84 women, most of them poor villagers, had the operation on Saturday in a hospital outside Bilaspur city in the central state of Chhattisgarh, Siddharth Komal Pardeshi, the district magistrate, said.

The women were sent home on Saturday evening following their surgeries, but scores were later rushed in ambulances to private hospitals after falling ill. By Tuesday, eight of the women had died, Pardeshi said.

"They have all had the same symptoms" including low blood pressure, headaches, breathing problems and signs of shock, said Arvind Gupta, the director of Apollo Hospital, one of the facilities where the sick women were taken.

Sonmani Borah, the commissioner for Bilaspur district where the camp was held, said that "64 women were taken to various hospitals since Monday night".

NDTV, a privately run Indian TV channel, reported that all of the 84 sterilisation surgeries were carried out in just five hours.

Autopsies were being performed on those who died.

The state has suspended the three government doctors who performed the surgeries, Pardeshi said.

It also will give compensation payments of about $3,300 to each of the victims' families.

Health officials 'suspended'

NDTV reported that "four top health officials" were suspended over the tragedy.

India's government, long concerned with fast population growth in a country whose population has reached , offers free sterilisation to both women and men who want to avoid the risk and cost of having a baby, though the vast majority of patients are women.

In many cases, they are offered a one-time payment for undergoing surgery of about $10-$20, or about a week's pay for a poor person in India. Hundreds of millions of Indians live in poverty.

It was not immediately clear whether the women in Bilaspur were paid for undergoing Saturday's operations.

India, with a population of 1.3 billion, has the world's highest rate of sterilisation among women, with about 37 percent undergoing such operations, compared with 29 percent in China, according to 2006 statistics reported by the UN.

In 2011-12, the government said 4.6 million Indian women had been sterilised.

Ranjana Kumari, a women's rights campaigner in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that while sterilisation had been an important part of India's family planning drive, it was "totally unacceptable" to activists. 

"This is not just about forcing poor women into this sterilisation campaign, it is also very medically incorrect," she said.

"They are targeting women and especially poor women, to control families and also to control population. 

"It is the poor women, it is the women from the villages who are targets. They are being brought like herds and groups and then they are sent for sterilisation. Women were brought for butchering." 

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies