States didn’t report oxygen shortage during 2nd COVID wave: Centre

Congress terms the health ministry’s statement "condemnable” and “misleading” especially when media reports spoke about numerous incidents where patients died due to oxygen shortage in hospitals

Health Minister of State Bharati Pawar, however, also mentioned that 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. Representative photo

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday (July 20) said that states and Union territories did not provide any specific details about deaths of COVID-19 patients due to lack of oxygen in hospitals.

Answering a question by All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP KC Venugopal on whether a large number of COVID-19 patients died on roads and hospitals due to acute shortage of oxygen during the second wave, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar, said that states and UTs usually report the number of cases and deaths to the Centre as health comes under their purview.

“However, no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states and UTs,” she said.

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Her statement drew criticism from the opposition which accused the Centre of misleading the house.

Describing the statement as “condemnable”, Venugopal said he will move a privilege motion against the minister.

Also read: India logs in 30,093 COVID-19 cases, lowest in 125 days

“In every state and Delhi also, we have seen how many patients died due to lack of oxygen we know. 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.

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.

“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 regularly. However, no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states and UTs,” Pawar said.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also took a swipe at the Centre, alleging there is an acute lack of sensitivity and truth in this government. “There was not just the shortage of oxygen. There was an acute shortage of sensitivity and truth then, it was there then and is there now too,” Gandhi tweeted.

During the peak of the brutal second wave of the pandemic in April-May this year, there were media reports about the death of COVID patients including in Delhi due to alleged oxygen shortage. In Karnataka, state officials had said on May 3 that 24 patients including 23 suffering from COVID-19 died in Chamarajanagar due to an alleged oxygen shortage in the district hospital 24 hours from the previous day.

Chamarajanagar district in-charge minister S Suresh Kumar, who is also the Primary and Secondary Education Minister, however, had maintained that all the deaths did not occur due to oxygen shortage.

Also read: India could record 1 lakh daily cases in Aug, warns senior ICMR scientist

Participating in a short duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the COVID pandemic management, Shantanu Sen of the Trinamool Congress said that during the second wave, people were dying on the roads because of the scarcity of oxygen and this has happened in the 21st century, which is a “matter of shame”.

In her written reply, Pawar went on to say that states were being 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 or are being procured and distributed to the states,” she said.

As many as 1,222 PSA oxygen generation plants have been sanctioned. Out of these, as of July 15, 237 plants have been commissioned. Apart from this, 295 PSA plants are being installed by different ministries, the minister said. States have also been asked to prepare state-level oxygen generation plants, she added.

To increase the storage capacity of liquid medical oxygen in the states, under the emergency COVID Package-Part-II, 1,050 Liquid Medical Oxygen Tanks along with Medical Gas Pipeline System(MGPS) for ₹80 lakh each have been approved.

“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 given the steep rise of COVID-19 trajectory in the country during April-May 2021,” the minister said.

Also read: Inoculations cut chance Of COVID death to 0.4%, says ICMR study

On the total demand of oxygen by the states and total oxygen supplied, the minister said the supply of medical oxygen to hospitals is determined by contractual arrangements between the hospital and the medical oxygen supplier concerned.

“However, due to unprecedented surge in demand of medical oxygen during the second wave the demand in the country peaked to nearly 9,000 MT as compared to 3,095 MT during the first wave the central government had to step in to facilitate equitable distribution to the states,” she said.

“A dynamic and transparent framework for allocation of medical oxygen in consultation with states and UTs and all the stakeholders such as relevant ministries, manufacturers/suppliers of liquid oxygen, etc. was prepared,” the written reply stated

(With inputs from agencies)

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