Controversy erupts after Centre's claims no recorded death due to oxygen shortage
New Delhi: A controversy has erupted following the recent claims made by the Union Health Ministry that no patient died due to shortage of oxygen and now several State Governments supporting the stand.
The Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar, while replying to a question by AICC General Secretary K C Venugopal, had stated before the Parliament that no deaths due to lack of oxygen were "specifically reported" by states and union territories during the second Covid-19 wave that hit the country.
Supporting the claim, the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Department, Shri Mansukh Mandaviya, while replying to a question-related to the shortage of essential medical services during second wave of Covid-19, also stated that the Health Ministry didn't receive any report from any State/UT related to the death of patients due to lack of oxygens.
"Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths have been issued by Union Health Ministry to all states/UTs. Accordingly, all states/UTs report cases and deaths to Union Health Ministry on a regular basis. However, states have at times reported backlog deaths in case of late reporting from hospitals and districts but, no such reports of patients dying due to shortage of oxygen and lack of hospital facilities in the country have been received by the Ministry from any State/UT," the Union Health Ministry stated before the Parliament Upper House.
Pawar in her written reply at the same time said there was an unprecedented surge in demand for medical oxygen during the second wave and it peaked at nearly 9,000 MT compared to 3,095 MT in the first wave following which the Centre had to step in to facilitate equitable distribution among the states, adds PTI.
The Government of India has supported the states and undertook a series of actions including provisioning medical oxygen, and other consumables to ensure clinical care of Covid-19 patients in view of the steep rise of Covid-19 trajectory in the country during April- May 2021.
Responding to the question on whether a large number of Covid-19 patients died on roads and hospitals due to acute shortage of oxygen during the devastating second wave, Pawar noted that health is a state subject and states and UTs regularly report the number of cases and deaths to the Centre.
"Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths have been issued by the Union Health Ministry to all states and UTs.
"Accordingly, all states and UTs report cases and deaths to the Union Health Ministry on a regular basis. However, no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states and UTs," she said.
A dynamic and transparent framework for allocation of medical oxygen in consultation with States/UTs and all the stakeholders such as relevant Ministries, manufacturers/suppliers of liquid oxygen etc. was prepared. The active case load of the State/UT was the primary determinant of oxygen allocation, other factors such as case doubling rate, available medical infrastructure, etc. were also given due consideration," she said.
Further, the allocation was kept dynamic as per the changing pandemic load. The first allocation order was issued on 15th April 2021 and revised from time to time, based on the trends of active cases and supply position. A total allocation of 10,250 MT has been done to 26 high burden States as on 28th May 2021, she added in her reply to the query on total demand of oxygen by the States and total oxygen supplied, State-wise during the last three months.
Following such claims on the part of the Central Government, several State Governments also started supporting the stand.
PTI adds that Gujarat Chief Minister also reiterated such claims and said, "Not a single coronavirus patient died due to lack of oxygen in Gujarat. Hospitals in the state treated over 8.5 lakh patients during the second wave. Of these, 8.25 lakh patients went home after recovering."
"We had designated several hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients. Not a single hospital reported any death due to shortage of oxygen. We had made adequate arrangements for oxygen supply. Opposition parties are misleading people with false allegations," Rupani added.
Although ruled by opposition, Maharashtra Government has also supported the claims of the Centre in this matter. Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday said the state government never reported any death due to shortage of oxygen during the second wave of Covid-19.
When asked by a TV channel about the Centre's statement, Tope said, "We never said people died due to oxygen shortage in the state. Many of them had issues like co-morbidities and other illnesses. No death has taken place due to the shortage of oxygen."
It should be noted in this context that in April this year, 22 patients died after the oxygen supply was disrupted at a Nashik hospital due to leakage in an oxygen storage plant, local officials had informed PTI.
Tope had then said a thorough probe will be conducted to find out if negligence led to the leakage of oxygen at the hospital.
Earlier in the day, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, whose party shares power with the NCP and Congress in Maharashtra, said people whose relatives died due to oxygen shortage should "take the Union government to court".
While reacting on the issue, The Rajasthan Health Minister, Dr. Raghu Sharma told ANI, "There's been a shortage of oxygen. CM sent three ministers to Delhi to demand a specific amount of oxygen during shortage. We needed 600 metric tons but we just received 400. Our management was good so we averted huge mishaps."
Tamil Nadu Health Minister M Subramaniam has also supported the claims of the Union Government. Speaking to ANI, M Subramaniam said, "There were no deaths due to oxygen shortage in Tamil Nadu. The Chief Minister has worked on a war footing to prevent this."
"When we faced lack of oxygen, we came in touch with the Centre at once and procured oxygen from them. So we didn't face big effects here", he added.
A similar opinion was voiced by Madhya Pradesh Medical Education Minister. While commenting on the matter, Madhya Pradesh Medical Education Minister Vishwas Sarang on Wednesday said, "No deaths took place due to lack of oxygen in our State. The Union Minister stated the same in Rajya Sabha. Even in Tamil Nadu, the health minister said the same about their state."
As per the latest media report by India Today, the Delhi Government, however, has hit out at the Central Government for such a claim. While commenting on the issue, Delhi health Minister Satyendra Jain told the media, "The Centre will soon say there was no Covid-19 pandemic. If there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen, then why were hospitals going to high courts? This (Centre's reply) is completely false."
Noting that opposition-ruled states claimed in courts that there was no death due to shortage of oxygen during the second Covid-19 wave and made similar assertions in their response to the Centre, the BJP on Wednesday hit back at its rivals amid a row over the Modi government's reply in Parliament on the matter.
ANI reports that following this, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra on July 21 reiterated Central Government's stand on zero deaths due to oxygen shortage during second wave of COVID-19. He said that the Central Government doesn't generate the data; it only collects the data sent by states and Union Territories. "There are 3 things one must pay attention to in the reply given by the Govt. Centre says that Health is a State/UT subject. It says that it just collects the data sent by States/UTs, it doesn't generate data".
He also added, "Centre says that as no State/UT sent any data regarding deaths specifically due to shortage of oxygen, since none of them said that a death occurred in their State/UT due to shortage of oxygen, there is no data for that. Did the Centre generate this data? No."
Meanwhile, shortly after the statement by the Centre, AICC General Secretary K C Venugopal accused the minister of having "misled" the house. Describing the statement as "condemnable", Venugopal, a Rajya Sabha MP to whose question the reply was given, said he will move a privilege motion against the minister, adds PTI.
"In every state and in Delhi also, we have seen how many patients died due to lack of oxygen we know. Actually, the minister misled the House. I will move a privilege(motion) against the minister definitely because she misguided and misled the House by giving false information to the House," Venugopal told reporters.
BSP president Mayawati on Thursday said the claim of "no deaths due to lack of oxygen" during the COVID-19 second wave was very unfortunate and sad, and added that such statements were creating a distrust among people of the government''s ability to tackle any future wave.
In a series of tweets, the BSP leader said, "Due to lack of oxygen, especially in the second wave of corona, there were panic and deaths in India. To deal with it, the central government even had to take foreign help and this is not hidden from anyone. Yet it is very unfortunate and sad to claim that there have been no deaths due to lack of oxygen."
"Such false statements are also creating a distrust of the Centre among the people as to what will happen if the third wave of corona strikes. The priority of the central and state governments should be 100 per cent towards the people and less towards political and government interests."
Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi has also slammed the Union Government over such a claim and has called them insensitive. He wrote on Twitter, "It wasn't just the lack of oxygen. There was a huge lack of sensitivity and truth - it was there then, it is still today."
Meanwhile, during the Rajya sabha session, the Minister had also informed in detail about the steps taken by the Government of India, along with the State Governments to tackle the unprecedented surge in oxygen demand that arose in the second wave of Covid-19 including:
Enhancement of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) production from 5700 MTs in August, 2020 to 9690 MTs in May, 2021;
Restrictions on industrial use of oxygen; and augmentation of availability of containers.
A dynamic and transparent framework for allocation of medical oxygen in consultation with States/UTs and all the stakeholders such as relevant Ministries, manufacturers/suppliers of liquid oxygen etc. was prepared.
Also, online digital solutions viz. Oxygen Demand Aggregation system (ODAS) and Oxygen Digital Tracking System (ODTS) have been developed to ascertain the demand for medical oxygen from all medical facilities and to track their transportation.
Further, in order to avoid wastage of medical oxygen, guidelines on rational use of oxygen were issued on 25th September 2020. These were further revised and disseminated to States on 25th April 2021.
Further, the States were provided with oxygen equipment such as oxygen cylinders, concentrators and Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) oxygen generation plants. A total of 4,02,517 oxygen cylinders have been procured/ are being procured and distributed to the States. Also, 1222 PSA Oxygen generation plants have been sanctioned. Out of these, as on 15th July, 2021, 237 plants have been commissioned. Apart from this, 295 PSA plants are being installed by different Ministries. States have also been asked to prepare State level oxygen generation plants.
With a view to increase the storage capacity of Liquid Medical Oxygen in the States, under the emergency COVID Package-Part-II, 1050 Liquid Medical Oxygen Tanks along with MGPS at a cost of Rs. 80 Lakh each have been approved.