Updated: April 23, 2021 8:57:22 pm
Appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for personal intervention and guidance in tackling the escalating Covid crisis that has brought the national capital’s healthcare system to its knees, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriewal warned Friday that a “big tragedy” will unfold if “quick and meaningful steps” are not taken to resolve the situation, especially an acute shortage of oxygen.
Speaking for nearly five minutes during the virtual meeting of chief ministers from 10 surge states with the Prime Minister, Kejriwal also asked whom he should speak to if other states disrupt oxygen supplies to Delhi.
With parts of Kejriwal’s appeal broadcast live, Modi stepped in briefly to point out that it was a breach of protocol since the meeting was “internal”. The Chief Minister’s Office later issued a statement expressing “regret” for “any inconvenience caused”.
Kejriwal’s appeal comes at a time when Delhi has emerged as the Ground Zero of the second wave, logging 1,72,211 cases and 1,541 deaths in the last week alone with the daily positivity rate peaking at 36.24 per cent.
On Friday afternoon, only 45 ICU beds were vacant, while hospitals have been making frequent public appeals on the need for oxygen. The Centre, on its part, has enhanced the oxygen allocation to Delhi from 378 metric tonnes to 480 metric tonnes but this is still far short of the capital’s demand for 700 metric tonnes per day.
Kejriwal told Modi that his phone keeps ringing as hospitals reach out to him, stating that they have two or three hours of oxygen left, because trucks meant for them have been stopped. “I want your guidance,” he said, adding that Central Ministers were helping earlier but now seem tired.
“If Delhi does not have an oxygen factory, will 2 crore people of Delhi not get oxygen? States that have oxygen factories, can they stop Delhi’s oxygen? We thank you for calling this meeting. I want to know that if today or tomorrow, or at any time, a hospital in Delhi has one or two hours of oxygen left, and there’s a risk of people dying, then whom should I make a call to in the Central government for help? If a State stops Delhi’s quota of oxygen, then who should I speak to on the phone?” Kejriwal said.
At one point, as Kejriwal suggested a “national action plan”, he was interrupted by the Prime Minister. “This tradition of ours, this protocol we have, it is against that for a Chief Minister to telecast live an in-house meeting like this. This is not appropriate. We should always maintain decorum,” Modi said.
Kejriwal responded: “Ok sir, we will follow this in future. I hope all those who died of Covid get peace and their families find strength. I apologise If I have done something wrong, if I have said something harsh or if there was something wrong in my behaviour. (Niti Aayog member V K) Paul sahab’s presentation was very good. We will follow the directions given to us accordingly.”
Later, the Chief Minister’s Office said: “Today, the CM address was shared live because there has never been any instruction, written or verbal, from the Central Government that the said interaction could not be shared live. There have been multiple occasions of similar interactions where matters of public importance, which had no confidential information, were shared live. However, if any inconvenience was caused we highly regret that.”
During the meeting with the Prime Minister, Kejriwal said: “There are only a few states from where oxygen is supplied to Delhi and where most problems are being noted. I request that if you call the Chief Ministers of those states once, and ask them to not stop our oxygen trucks, then people of Delhi will get oxygen. For the 2 crore people of Delhi, I am requesting you with folded hands. You can help us. Please help us.”
Kejriwal said a national plan should be made to save the country from Covid-19, in which the Central government should take over all oxygen plants through the Army’s help.
He said if the Army escorts oxygen trucks, no one would stop them. He also thanked the PM for increasing Delhi’s oxygen quota, but said that the capital was facing difficulty in getting 100 tons of oxygen that was supposed to come to Delhi from Odisha and West Bengal.
Kejriwal asked the PM to either airlift this oxygen consignment to Delhi or to make it available “through your idea” of the “oxygen express”.
When the PM told him that the oxygen express trains were already running, Kejriwal said they were not reaching Delhi. “If a corridor can be made available for Delhi then we will be very thankful to you. You have done it in 2-3 places through your intervention, I learned,” the Chief Minister said.
Other AAP leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, have accused Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments of blocking the transport of oxygen to Delhi by use of police force.
Describing Delhi’s situation as “very serious” and that “people can’t be left to die”, Kejriwal told the Prime Minister: “We again appeal to you with folded hands that if some quick and meaningful steps are not taken, then there can be a big tragedy in Delhi… It is unbearable to see the situation in hospitals due to shortage of oxygen. People are in a lot of trouble. We can’t sleep all night. Despite being their CM, I am not able to do anything… We won’t be able to forgive ourselves if some untoward incident happens because of shortage of oxygen.”
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