Updated: April 24, 2021 9:03:14 pm
With four of the states worst hit by Covid battling a critical shortfall between demand and supply of oxygen in their hospitals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told officials during a high-level meeting Thursday to ramp up production and the Union Home Ministry ordered all states to strictly abide by its distribution plan amid reports of some seizing supplies meant for others.
As the country reported a record 3,14,835 new cases — the highest single-day figure for any country since the pandemic began — and 2,104 deaths in the last 24 hours, figures obtained by The Indian Express show that Delhi, UP, Gujarat and Haryana face severe shortfalls (see chart) in the supply of oxygen.
They show that the national capital has been hit the hardest with a deficit of 220 metric tonnes (MT) per day; Karnataka and Rajasthan have got just enough to see the day through while several other states have marginally surplus stocks and face shortage if they face challenges to replenishment.
In fact, records show, the demand for medical oxygen has increased by 18 per cent over the last six days across 12 states, which account for 83 per cent of active cases in the country.
A letter sent by Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan to states on April 15 states that Delhi, UP, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Punjab, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, TN, MP and Maharashtra had projected a combined demand of 4,880 MT per day for April 20.
However, a communication on April 21 from Nipun Vinayak, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, has pegged the combined demand from these 12 states at 5,760 MT per day.
An analysis of figures given in two letters shows two states — Delhi (133 per cent) and UP (100 per cent) — topping the demand chart for medical oxygen in the last six days.
The Centre, meanwhile, said it would open registration from April 28 on the CoWin portal to enable all those above 18 years to join the vaccination drive from May 1. “Only self-registration and advance appointments for people between 18-45 years of age. No walk-in allowed,” it said.
The Prime Minister will also chair an “internal meeting” at 9 am Friday to discuss the Covid situation. At 10 am, he will interact with Chief Ministers of high-burden states followed by a meeting with leading oxygen manufacturers at 12.30 pm. “Due to that, I would not be going to West Bengal,” Modi said in a tweet, referring to the BJP’s campaign in the Assembly polls.
The Prime Minister’s Thursday meeting with top officials, including the Cabinet Secretary and the Secretaries of Home and Health, on the oxygen crisis came after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued orders under the Disaster Management Act that no state can hold up supplies to another.
The order issued by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that “no restriction shall be imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between states and transport authorities shall be instructed to accordingly allow free inter-state movement of oxygen carrying vehicles”.
It said that states have to follow the supply plan drafted by a Central panel based on requirement. No restrictions can be imposed on “oxygen manufacturers and suppliers to limit the oxygen supplies only to the hospitals of the state/UT in which they are located”, it said, while holding DMs, SSPs and SPs “personally liable” for implementation.
In his meeting, which was also attended by the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and other officials, Modi “spoke about the need to fix responsibility with the local administration in cases of obstruction… (and) also stressed that the states should come down heavily on hoarding,” the Government said in a statement.
It said that the Prime Minister “spoke about the need to work rapidly on multiple aspects: increasing production of oxygen, increasing the speed of distribution and using innovative ways to provide oxygen support to health facilities”.
During the meeting, the statement said, Modi was informed that with an unprecedented demand for 6,785 metric tonnes/day of Liquid Medical Oxygen from 20 states, the Centre from April 21 has allocated 6,822 MT/ day.
They include eight key states: Maharashtra (1646 MT allocated earlier, 1661 MT now); Madhya Pradesh (445, 543); Haryana (156, 162); UP (751, 753); Punjab (126, 136); Andhra Pradesh (360, 440); Uttarakhand (83, 103); and, Delhi (378, 480).
Referring to the MHA order, meanwhile, sources told The Indian Express that the order was issued after reports were received of some states allegedly diverting oxygen produced within their boundaries but meant for other states to their own hospitals. This week, Delhi accused UP and Haryana of stalling its supplies while Haryana accused Delhi of “looting” an oxygen tanker meant for a hospital in Faridabad.
Sources said similar directions had been issued to all chief secretaries on April 18, but that was more advisory in nature. Under Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act, anyone refusing to comply with the order is liable for imprisonment up to one year, or fine, or both. In case, any violation leads to death, the culprit faces a jail term of up to two years.
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