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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 19, New Delhi, April 24, 2021

Causing Deaths Through Artificial Oxygen Crisis - Responsibility Must Be Fixed And Guilty Punished | Gyan Pathak

Friday 23 April 2021

by Gyan Pathak

(India Press Agency, April 22, 2021) India has sufficient stock of oxygen, says the Union Government. It means the catastrophic oxygen crisis in the country is created either artificially for profiteering, criminal neglect of responsibility, or obstructing its smooth movement by design or carelessness. This essential commodity for sustaining human life is not reaching to all the critical COVID-19 patients admitted in hospitals causing their death in large number. It is a culpable homicide. Therefore, responsibility must be fixed and guilty punished.

As per the data of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the daily consumption was only 3,842 MT as on April 12, 2021. The Union Government has said that the total medical and industrial stock in the country was 50,000 MT while daily production capacity was 7,287 MT. India’s daily oxygen production far outpaces the supply. At current rate, daily medical oxygen consumption in the country is only 54 per cent of the production capacity. Due to lack of medical grade oxygen, industrial oxygen is diverted and purified for use of patients.

In this scenario, it must be investigated, who is responsible for disrupting the supply chain of medical oxygen causing death to patients. It has been said that present crisis erupted due to shortage of cylinders and tankers, which also needs to be investigated to ascertain the whole truth about it. The crisis of cylinders and tankers may also be artificially created for profiteering. Rates of oxygen has been rising up to 20 to 30 per cent compared to last year, and is being supplied at much higher prices in black market which smacks malevolent players who must be brought to book.

Modi government’s policies are the greatest contributing factor for the present crisis. Even amidst the pandemic, India exported 9884 MT industrial grade oxygen between April 2020 and January 2021 as against only 4500 MT the previous year. Export of medical grade oxygen during the same period was only 12 MT. Nevertheless, if our oxygen can reach distant foreign countries, why it cannot reach to a hospital within our geographical boundary? Here comes the question of priority of Modi government which ignored the needs of our own citizens and preferred to supply to foreign countries. It must be ascertained whether this neglect was criminal, and if yes, who was responsible for it. The decision of banning its industrial use within the country has taken only recently after a large number of deaths due to shortage of oxygen. This ban is being implemented from April 22, 2021.

The demand for medical oxygen in India has been on the increase for over a year now. The aggravated crisis now is clear proof of Modi government’s failure and mismanagement. After the outbreak of the crisis, it took eight months to invite bids for over 150 oxygen generation plants costing just Rs200 crore. Even six months later now, most of them still aren’t up and running. It remained so, despite the demand for liquid medical oxygen (LMO) has jumped from 700 tonne per day (TPD) before the corona outbreak to 2,800 TPD in the peak of the first wave in September 2020. In the second wave, the demand has gove up over seven times to above 5,000 TPD.

The whole blame for the crisis rests on the Modi government, because supply of medical oxygen is being controlled and monitored by the centre. There is an empowered group EG-2 headed by the secretary in the department for promotion of industry and internal trade mandated by the Union Government. Central government allots to quotas. There work is slow and there is also allegation of red-tapeism in allotment and supply causing artificial crisis and deaths thereby. Many states have alleged favouritism and diversion of quotas, due to which oxygen is not reaching to a large number of needy critical patients who have not any connections with the people in power or in the supply chain. The situation has become so critical that we have been reading reports of oxygen cylinders and tanker loots. It is clearly becoming a law and order problem which needs to be restrained immediately.

Medical oxygen in India is still not a controlled commodity, the prices are controlled by the National Pharma Pricing Authority. It must be investigated and action to be taken as to how the prices of oxygen cylinders are rising sharply in the market, and its being even supplied in the black market on premium. Earlier, there was no restriction on the inter-state movement of oxygen, but today there is restriction which is making. The movement of LMO has become slow due to this restriction, which needs to be smoothed. It is shamelessness of the centre to ask states to keep oxygen demand in control, and showcasing movement of oxygen by train, as if they are making the movement faster. The reality is it is a small run on trial basis to see if train is faster than road. Union government is not able to provide logistics in one long year is shocking.

It has been reported that PM Modi himself was monitoring all aspects of the pandemic including oxygen supply. It would be anyone’s guess how little he was doing in the meetings apart from lecturing the nation and giving empty assurances of sufficient supply of oxygen. It is well known that providing oxygen is not so difficult a task as the Union government has made it to, because small oxygen plants of 25-100 thousand litres per day capacity can be set up in about 4-6 weeks. Larger plants need more time. As early as April 2020, Drug Controller General of India has mandated that approval for production of medical oxygen must be given within 24 hours of receipt of the application. It should be investigated who were putting hurdles in this regard.

EG-2 has initiated several measures but too late. It is clear that there is lack of foresight on the government is not working with advance planning. Logistical modals are faulty, and there is red-tape and favoritism. Motif of profiteering and corruption is also alleged in the supply and allocation chain. Action must be taken immediately and prosecution should be launched against the culprits. (IPA Service)

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