At least two members of Delhi O2 audit panel did not sign off on findings

Two members — Dr Sandeep Budhiraja, clinical director, Max Healthcare, and Bhupinder S Bhalla, principal secretary (home), Delhi government — said that they were not in agreement with some key findings of the report.
The copy of the interim report presented to the Supreme Court also did not carry signatures of the panel members, which is a routine practice.(ANI)
The copy of the interim report presented to the Supreme Court also did not carry signatures of the panel members, which is a routine practice.(ANI)
Updated on Jun 26, 2021 02:32 AM IST
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By Utkarsh Anand, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Two members of a Supreme Court-appointed panel looking into Delhi’s oxygen situation during the last wave of Covid-19 expressed crucial objections when an interim report, in which the panel appeared to suggest that officials in the Capital had inflated the need for medical oxygen, was being drafted.

According to documents seen by HT, these two members — Dr Sandeep Budhiraja, clinical director, Max Healthcare, and Bhupinder S Bhalla, principal secretary (home), Delhi government — said that they were not in agreement with some key findings of the report, which suggested that the state government had grossly overstated its medical oxygen requirements during the second wave of the pandemic.

One of them, Bhalla, in an internal note on Friday, expressed dismay that the report was submitted to the Supreme Court, and wrote that his objections and corrections were not inserted, and that the report “does not have the approval of all the members of the subgroup”. The data on LMO (liquid medical oxygen) consumption, Bhalla said, was a mere collation from hospitals and “was not claimed by government of NCT of Delhi”. His reference was to the 1,140MT that the panel contended the Delhi government listed as the city’s consumption.

In annexures attached with the report, too, Bhalla had, in a letter dated May 31, expressed displeasure at the “manner in which the proceedings of the subgroup were conducted” and alleged that it was trying to justify “preconceived and predetermined conclusions”.

The other member, Dr Budhiraja, also sought changes and additions in the interim draft report, and wanted the quantity of allocation of medical oxygen to be made to Delhi to be left to the oxygen commissioner. In a letter in response to the interim draft report, he also pointed out that the minutes of the May 15 meeting were not shared for approval, leading to his not attending a crucial meeting on May 18.

The panel is a subgroup headed by AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria. Its other members are Dr Budhiraja, Bhalla, Subodh Yadav, a joint secretary in the Jal Shakti ministry, and Sanjay Kumar Singh, the controller of explosives at the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO). It met seven times between May 11 and May 21.

The official and internal documents made it unclear if the report was meant to be submitted to the court in this form -- particularly since the next date of hearing in the matter has not been set by the Supreme Court -- and if it had been approved by all the members.

The copy of the interim report presented to the Supreme Court also did not carry signatures of the panel members, which is a routine practice.

None of the members of the panel were available for comment despite several attempts to reach them.

“The detailed objections/comments of the undersigned have been added at the end of the Interim Report (pages 110-119) just for posterity, leaving it to the reader to make the effort, if he/she so decides, to interpret the entire report together and make his/her conclusions,” Bhalla said in the internal statement on Friday.

“The interim report seems to have been sent to Government of India without making the requisite changes, without sharing again with the members of the subgroup, and without their formal approval,” he added.

Bhalla’s statement suggested that several corrections made during the deliberation as to demand and consumption of oxygen in Delhi did not reflect in the interim report despite his insisting categorically to revise the draft report to present a clear picture.

The letters sent last month by Bhalla and Budhiraja to the panel have been attached as separate documents at the bottom of the interim report submitted in the apex court.

On May 31, Bhalla wrote to the subgroup that the entire proceedings of the panel were “vitiated” since it had transgressed into jurisdiction of the 12-member national task force appointed by the top court for the purpose of revisiting the oxygen allocation formula for each state.

“The manner, in which the proceedings of the subgroup have been conducted, suggests that the purpose of proceeding was to justify a preconceived and predetermined conclusion and narrative to recommend a lower quantity of oxygen to Delhi and to further portray an impression that the assessment by the Delhi government before the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court was exaggerated and not genuine,” he said in the letter.

The other member, Dr Budhiraja, maintained in his letter that the actual requirement of oxygen had come to around 490MT per day when the calculation did not take into account oxygen cylinder refilling and non-Covid requirement of hospitals.

These facts have not been mentioned in the interim report submitted to the court. Instead, the report has recorded a finding that 400 MT per day (and not 490 MT as Budhiraja claims to be the actual requirement for Delhi) was adequate for the national capital.

The report was submitted to the court through the Union health ministry. An official, who asked not to be named, said the ministry had no role to play in the findings, and it only acted as a “messenger”.

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Thursday, October 28, 2021