Updated: August 20, 2021 8:42:14 pm
The Delhi government’s proposal to set up a committee to examine claims of deaths due to shortage of medical oxygen has once again been rejected by Lt-Governor Anil Baijal, who has reasoned that a committee set up by the Supreme Court is already looking into the issue.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia questioned the rationale behind the decision of the L-G and sought to corner the Centre over the issue, alleging that it “wants to cover up its failure in oxygen management”.
The country had witnessed a severe crisis of medical oxygen in hospitals and nursing homes, especially in Delhi which was battered by the Covid-19 second wave in April-May. The Delhi government has said a dedicated committee needs to be set up to examine the claims of deaths due to oxygen shortage.
In May, the Delhi government had made one more attempt to set up a dedicated panel, but that too was struck down by the L-G with the same reasoning that the group working under the directions of the Supreme Court, which has among its members AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria and Delhi Principal Secretary (Home) BS Bhalla, is already dealing with the issue.
“Delhi government has constituted a high-level inquiry committee of medical experts to investigate the number of deaths due to lack of oxygen. So that the reason behind these deaths could be duly investigated and a compensation of Rs 5 lakh could be given to families of victims, but the L-G has yet again rejected this committee.
“On the one hand, the central government has asked states to convey the number of deaths due to lack of oxygen, and on the other hand, it is not even allowing the Delhi government to investigate the matter. The Centre is rubbing salt on the wounds of those who lost their loved ones during the oxygen crisis,” Sisodia said.
Earlier, he had written letters to Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya to allow Baijal to form the committee, following which a formal proposal was sent to the L-G House.
Sources in the L-G House said, “A high-level committee constituted as per SC directions, where apart from senior and reputed doctors, the ACS (Health), Delhi government, is also a member. It is already looking into the matter. It has submitted its interim report and is working on the final report… Setting up another committee for the same purpose will only create confusion.”
The interim report of the SC committee, which is essentially a sub-group of top doctors and bureaucrats, had sparked a row in June, primarily over one of its observations that on one day during the second wave there was a disparity between actual oxygen consumption in Delhi’s hospitals and demand.
To be sure, the SC committee is concerned with the larger picture behind the crisis seen during the second wave and recommending steps to iron out the creases in the medical oxygen supply and distribution network. It is not examining specific claims of deaths due to oxygen shortage.
Sisodia said the “gross mismanagement” of oxygen by the central government, “whether deliberate or unintentional”, is a matter of investigation.
“The Centre is trying to hide the facts by avoiding investigation, but it will have to bear the responsibility of the deaths of lakhs of people who lost lives because of its mismanagement,” he added.
So far, the only committee that looked into allegations of oxygen shortage-related deaths in Delhi had examined data from six private hospitals. It was formed on April 28 based on a Delhi High Court order.
In its report, submitted on May 2, the committee had observed that out of the six hospitals that shared records with it, only Jaipur Golden claimed deaths had taken place in its facility due to oxygen shortage. However, the committee concluded that since hospital records do not indicate any shortage of oxygen, it could not be ascertained as the cause of death.
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