Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cancelled Friday’s visit to West Bengal to address election rallies and will instead spend the day in New Delhi reviewing the COVID-19 situation.
The decision came as India reported the world’s biggest-ever daily surge on Thursday with 3.14 lakh new cases and 2,104 deaths – the fastest rise in cases and deaths any country has suffered till now.
The Supreme Court on Thursday took suo motu notice of the deteriorating situation, and asked the Centre to present a national plan on COVID-19 management.
The SC noted that at least six high courts were hearing matters pertaining to the pandemic, which was creating confusion. Chief Justice of India SA Bobde the SC wanted to issue notice for a national plan, including on: supply of oxygen, supply of essential drugs, the method and manner of vaccination, and the power to declare lockdowns. The court will hear the matter on Friday.
The development came ahead of a Delhi High Court hearing of a case related to the supply of oxygen to hospitals in the capital. Hearing the petition filed by Max Healthcare, which runs several hospitals in the capital, the HC asked the Centre why it was not diverting oxygen from petroleum and steel industries for medical exigencies when corporates were doing that. “This is ridiculous. We want to know what the Centre is doing with regard to oxygen supply across India,” the judges said.
“We don’t care. Beg, borrow, steal or requisition new plants if you want,” the judges said.
The Delhi government also approached the HC again on Thursday when two of the city’s hospitals reported they had only a few hours’ oxygen supply left.
The court said the Centre should ensure that Delhi receives its full 480 metric tonne quota of oxygen.
“There should be strict compliance of the allocation order of 480 MT [of oxygen] and today’s MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs] order. Non-compliance of this order will attract criminal action,” it said.
“We direct the Centre to ensure adequate security to the tankers and no obstruction on the way and a special corridor for immediate transportation of oxygen. If the government wants, they can make heaven and earth meet.”
In Maharashtra consumption of medical oxygen reached the state’s full production capacity of 1,250 metric tonnes. The state has 6.38 lakh active cases. About 10 per cent of them — 60,000-65,000 — are on oxygen support, the highest for any state. Maharashtra is additionally taking 50 metric tonnes from Chhattisgarh and another 50 metric tonnes from Gujarat daily. It is also slated to receive 100 metric tonnes from Reliance’s plant in Jamnagar, Gujarat.
The Centre is focusing on 12 high-burden states — Maharashtra, MP, Gujarat, Rajasthan Karnataka, UP, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana — where oxygen requirement is set to increase. Over 17,000 tonnes of oxygen will be directed from states that have surplus oxygen to these 12 states to meet their projected demand.
Modi has also asked the state governments to act against any hoarding of oxygen and directed officials to ensure that the oxygen supply to various states happens in a smooth, unhindered manner, PTI reported.
Meanwhile, the opposition continued to hold the government accountable for the escalating crisis. The Centre’s decision to liberalise vaccination and to allow states to directly procure vaccines from manufacturers was criticised on Thursday. Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to Modi terming the new COVID-19 vaccine policy arbitrary and discriminatory. In her letter, she said policy shows that the central government has abdicated its responsibility of providing free vaccines to all Indians.
“It is surprising that despite the harsh lessons of last year and the pain inflicted on our citizens, the government continues to follow an arbitrary and discriminatory policy, which promises to exacerbate existing challenges,” she said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also called upon the Centre to bring in uniformity in the vaccine pricing. “One nation, one party, one leader shouts BJP all the time, but to save lives they can’t have one price for the vaccine. Every Indian needs free vaccine, regardless of age, caste, creed, location. GoI must fix ONE price for Covid vaccine irrespective of who pays— Centre or the States,” she said in a tweet.