Oxygen mess gets political again: Sisodia lashes out at Centre
Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia on Wednesday accused the Centre of “lying” in Parliament that no deaths were caused due to a shortage of oxygen during the second wave of Covid-19 infections in the country.
The comment pertains to the Union health ministry’s statement in Parliament that no state reported any fatality due to oxygen shortage, which triggered criticism from several political leaders – Sisodia first criticised the stand in a statement on Tuesday.
In response, the Bharatiya Janata Party blamed state governments, including the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, for not declaring any of the deaths were linked to oxygen shortage, and contended that the Centre’s reply was simply based on data from the states.
Addressing a digital press conference on Wednesday, Sisodia said, “The Centre blatantly and shamelessly lied to the Parliament on Tuesday. There was a genuine oxygen crisis across the country between April 15 and May 10. During this period, there was utter oxygen mismanagement by the Centre because of which, there was chaos in hospitals. The Centre is now lying to hide its mistakes. It changed its oxygen distribution policy after April 13, which led to a total disaster. The Centre will have to take responsibility for this.”
The Centre, Sisodia added, started rationing supplies to states on April 13 based on demand, case load and so on. It also rearranged plants from where states were to get their oxygen supplies. Delhi, for instance, was allocated plants in distant states like West Bengal and Odisha apart from a few that were in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, the deputy chief minister said.
The crisis in Delhi reached the Delhi high court as well as the Supreme Court, before judicial orders were made to enhance Delhi’s supplies.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra cited a Delhi government submission to a court to point out that the authorities in the city had denied such deaths took place, even as hospital administrators blamed flaws in the recording mechanism for lack of data on the issue.
“The Centre says that health is a state subject. It says that it just collects the data, it doesn’t generate it. None of them said that a death occurred in their state and Union Territory due to shortage of oxygen, there is no data for that. Did the Centre generate this data? No,” said Sambit Patra, BJP spokesperson.
Experts said the problem was there was no mechanism to record oxygen deaths.
“This is all a political gimmick. There is no mechanism to report deaths due to oxygen shortage,” said a senior doctor from Batra Hospital, asking not to be named.
Dr Sudhanshu Bankata, executive director of Batra hospital, on May 1 said in the Delhi high court: “We have lost lives,” when asked about the oxygen crisis. He refused to comment.
“All Covid-19 deaths are reported to the state government in a pre-defined format. There is no mechanism to separately report a death due to oxygen shortage. There was a report that the Delhi government set up a six-member committee, but the hospital has received no communication from them,” said an official from a large private hospital in the city.
The committee being referred to was the panel constituted by the Delhi government to survey deaths due to lack of oxygen so that the families of the deceased can be compensated – the exercise was halted after the Lieutenant Governor rejected the scheme.
Calls to three of the six committee members by HT went unanswered.
One of the members answered the call and said: “The committee met only once and the scope of the work was discussed during the meeting. There hasn’t been any communication from the committee to hospitals so far. After the initial meeting, there hasn’t been any communication on whether and when the next meeting would be held.”
Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain accused the Union government of impeding in the exercise to determine the number of people who died due to the oxygen crisis. “The Centre will soon say there was no Covid-19. If there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen, then why were hospitals going to high court for shortages? This is completely false. We had formed an audit committee for oxygen to provide compensation to victims, which was stopped by the Centre through LG. The Centre is rubbing salt on wounds. We’ll appeal the LG to allow us to run the committee,” Jain said.
One of the most high-profile cases of possible deaths to oxygen shortage was in Delhi’s Jaipur golden hospital, where 20 mostly critical Covid-19 patients died due to oxygen shortage in the night between April 23 and 24. A Delhi government committee on May 5 later told the Delhi high court that that the deaths, due to “respiratory failure”, were not because of oxygen shortage.
Addressing a question on this, Sisodia said: “We have told the high court that the Centre is not allowing us to make a committee which is to investigate all such deaths... If you ask us today, we have no data of deaths that happened due to oxygen shortage. We will be able to get such a number only if the Centre allows us to form the committee.”
Family members of those that died during this period criticised the governments.
Erick Massey, whose mother Delphin Massey (61) died in Jaipur Golden Hospital on the night the hospital ran out of oxygen supply, said: “Both Centre and Delhi government are shrugging off the responsibility. If the hospital went on record to say over 20 people died due to oxygen shortage then what other proof do they need? Delhi government tried to suppress it but why did the central government not initiate any probe into it when everything is in the open?”
Jagjyot Singh, whose mother Sarabjit Kaur (58) also died in Jaipur Golden hospital the same night, said: “People died due to negligence of the governments. Now the same governments are insulting the dead by not acknowledging that they died because of oxygen shortage. The patients died of cardiac arrest, lungs collapse, etc because the hospitals could not provide them oxygen.”