Differences simmering among members of SC panel on oxygen demand of Delhi

Two of the five members have opposed the report alleging that they were coerced into approving the interim report

The Supreme Court has reserved its order on oxygen supply in Delhi till it examines the interim report thoroughly.

An interim report prepared by a Supreme Court-appointed subgroup on oxygen supply in Delhi during the COVID second wave has resulted in a confrontation between the Centre and the Delhi government once again.

The conclusion drawn by the subgroup that the Delhi government showed 4 times more oxygen demand than the actual requirement has been the cause of trouble between the two governments.

Differences have been brewing among committee members. Two of the five members have opposed the report and alleged that they were coerced into approving it. The two members –  Delhi’s Principal Home Secretary Bhupendra Bhalla and Max Healthcare Director Dr Sandeep Budhiraja – claim they did not even join the meeting held on May 18.

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Bhupendra Bhalla told The Federal, “The subgroup was formed to tell exactly why there was a problem in meeting the oxygen demand of Delhi. Instead, it forcefully drew the conclusion that oxygen supply was more than the demand, which was not the objective of forming the subgroup. Inspection of oxygen formula for demand was the job of the National Task Force.”

Bhalla added that rules were not followed while preparing the report. “The report misrepresents some facts. It (report) says the oxygen consumption was 250 MT at the end of April, but in reality it was 625 MT, as per hospital occupancy. The number of hospitals considered while preparing the report was 214, while the fact is that more than 260 hospitals were treating COVID patients.”

“Moreover, the rules made it clear that before the next meeting is held, the minutes of previous meetings shall be shared. The minutes of the meeting that happened on May 15 were not shared with us till the next meeting time happened on May 18. So I did not attend the meeting. Dr Budhiraja did not attend the meeting for the same reason,” said Bhalla.

“The report was submitted to the Supreme Court without seeking our approval. Our corrections and objections were neither entertained nor acted upon. The meeting was completely unidirectional held with an aim to show the Delhi government in bad light,” Bhalla added.

Dr Sandeep Budhiraja told The Federal, “The ICMR guidelines were followed while calculating oxygen demand for Delhi. Every ICU bed requires 24 litres of oxygen per minute while on a normal ward bed, 10 litres of oxygen per minute is needed. Using this formula, even if you consider 214 hospitals were treating COVID patients, the oxygen needed in the first week of May in Delhi comes to 500 MT. If you consider the number of hospitals to be 260, the demand will increase manifold.”

“Also, while calculating the demand at 500 MT, home oxygen cylinders were not taken into account. The oxygen consumption in the second week of May was actually more than 500 MT. These decisions were taken in the first meeting and were reversed before the last meeting. The claim that Delhi asked for four times more oxygen is not true,” he added.

Dr Budhiraja wrote a letter to the members of the oxygen sub audit group, saying that the actual requirement for oxygen had come to around 500 MT per day at the start of May when the calculation did not take into account oxygen cylinder refilling and non-COVID requirement of hospitals.

“These facts have not been mentioned in the interim report submitted to the Supreme Court. Instead, the report has recorded a finding that 400 MT oxygen per day was not adequate for the national capital.”

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However, Sanjay Kumar Singh, Controller of Explosives of the Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organisation (PESO), and a member of the committee, said the report has been prepared taking into consideration the real-time oxygen demand of Delhi state. He said, “Every fact recorded in the report was analyzed very carefully before the panel submitted its report in the Supreme Court.”

AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria, who was also a member of the sub-group, told the media, “It’s an interim report and it’s sub-judice. It’s an ongoing process and it’s difficult to say what the final report will actually say. If you go through the report, you’ll see that oxygen requirement is a dynamic process and requirement will change every day and every hour as the nature of pandemic changes. Therefore, the need and supply will keep varying.”

The Supreme Court has reserved its order till it examines the report thoroughly.

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