World pitches in for COVID-hit India, but aid distribution hits roadblocks

Logistics problems apart, there are technical compatibility issues; Centre announces measures to hasten process

COVID-19
The supplies include medicines, oxygen generation units, cylinders, concentrators, cryogenic tankers, separators, ventilators and face masks

Hit by a second wave of COVID, India has been struggling to handle the crisis, falling short of hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen supply and critical medications. With heart-rending visuals splashed across media, several countries have sought to help India with key supplies such as oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, ventilators and life-saving drugs like Remdesivir.

However, not everything that’s landing is reaching hospitals in quick time, thanks to various stumbling blocks. A key impediment is customs clearance. Take, for instance, the 20 flights that landed with foreign aid, only to see the oxygen concentrators and Remdesivir stuck at customs for days together. According to an NDTV report, logistics and “technical compatibility problems” are behind the delays.

Related news: Delhi HC calls Centre’s response on oxygen crisis ‘insensitive & unfortunate’

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‘Streamlined mechanism’

To address the issue, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), on Tuesday, issued an online form. The aim is to expedite customs clearance for COVID treatment-related drug and equipment.

A Press Information Bureau (PIB) statement said: “A streamlined and systematic mechanism for allocation of the support supplies received by India has been put into place, for effective distribution of the medical and other relief and support material.”

For instance, the goods are given high priority for clearance by the customs systems for processing over other goods, PIB said. “Nodal officers also get alert on email for monitoring and clearance. Monitoring by senior officers for pendency of COVID related imports is also being undertaken,” it added. “The handholding to the trade is given for complying with the requirements beforehand.”

On Monday, the Centre had offered a temporary exemption of Integrated Goods and Services Taxes (IGST) for select COVID treatment materials. This would apply till June 30, 2021.

Categories of aid

The aid come under various categories – while some are government to government, others are private to government, etc.  The government first processes the aid, and the critical ones are instantly accepted.

Then, according to the NDTV report, the offer is sent to the Health Ministry, which puts it on an inter-ministerial WhatsApp group to decide on what to accept. For one, the technical teams vet them to see what would work in India.

About 20 flights have reached till now, carrying around 900 oxygen cylinders and key medicines apart from oxygen concentrators and   ventilators.  On Monday, the Delhi High Court had sought to know from the Centre why oxygen concentrators were lying at the airport for want of customs clearance even as dozens of people were dying due to its non-availability.

Related news: 24 COVID patients die in Karnataka hospital as oxygen supply dips

To date, India has received thousands of tonnes of medical supplies from countries such as the US, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Belgium, Uzbekistan, the UK, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Thailand and Taiwan. The supplies, apart from medicines, include oxygen generation units, cylinders, concentrators, cryogenic tankers, separators, ventilators and face masks

The Centre has begun allocating the aid, with the first batch of beneficiaries being Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

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