Centre, Cong spar over O2 supply to embassies
New Delhi: The government and the Congress were embroiled in a spat on Sunday over the supply of oxygen to two foreign missions in New Delhi, with external affairs minister S Jaishankar accusing the main opposition party of indulging in “cheap publicity”.
The war of words erupted after posts on social media on the supply of oxygen cylinders to the Philippines embassy on Saturday and the New Zealand high commission on Sunday. The Youth Congress, which has played a key role in responding to urgent requests for oxygen, posted videos of its members delivering oxygen cylinders to both missions.
Jaishankar said the external affairs ministry ascertained that there are no Covid-19 cases in the Philippines embassy and the matter was tantamount to “unsolicited supply”.
“MEA checked with the Philippines Embassy. This was an unsolicited supply as they had no Covid cases. Clearly for cheap publicity by you know who. Giving away cylinders like this when there are people in desperate need of oxygen is simply appalling,” he tweeted.
Jaishankar was responding to a post by senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who tweeted: “While I thank @IYC for its stellar efforts, as an Indian citizen I’m stunned that the youth wing of the opposition party is attending to SOS calls from foreign embassies. Is the MEA sleeping @DrSJaishankar ?”
The minister added in another tweet: “Jairamji, MEA never sleeps; our people know across the world. MEA also never fakes; we know who does.”
External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, in a statement, indicated that there should be no hoarding of essential supplies such as oxygen by foreign missions.
Bagchi said the chief of protocol and heads of regional divisions in the ministry are in “continuous touch” with high commissions and embassies, and the ministry is “responding to their medical demands, especially those related to Covid”.
“This includes facilitating their hospital treatment. Given the pandemic situation, all are urged not to hoard essential supplies, including oxygen,” he added.
It was not immediately clear whether any mission had approached the external affairs ministry for oxygen or assistance in obtaining hospital beds.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that some foreign missions had faced problems in recent days in arranging hospital beds in Delhi and Gurugram for local staffers who tested positive for Covid-19. The people added there were instances of some missions facing problems in procuring medicines such as Remdesivir and having to buy them for more than ₹30,000 a dose.
The price of different versions of Remdesivir ranges from ₹900 to about ₹3,500.
Meanwhile, Indian Youth Congress president BV Srinivas told reporters that a volunteer had been contacted by someone acting on behalf of the Philippines embassy for the supply of oxygen cylinders. The person said oxygen was needed for two people in the embassy.
Though there was reportedly a need for 10 small cylinders, the Youth Congress posted a video on Twitter that showed two large cylinders being delivered to the Philippines embassy. The Youth Congress also tweeted what it said were screenshots of phone call records and exchange of messages with the person from the Philippines embassy regarding the supply of oxygen.
The Youth Congress posted a separate video of its volunteers delivering oxygen cylinders to the New Zealand mission. Srinivas tweeted the mission opened its gates, accepted the cylinders and thanked the Youth Congress team “for this quick relief as patient inside embassy was critically ill”.
Earlier, the New Zealand high commission purportedly deleted a tweet tagging the Youth Congress and Srinivas that said, “Could you please help with oxygen cylinder urgently at the New Zealand High Commission? Thank you.” Screenshots of this tweet were widely shared on social media.
The New Zealand mission said in a subsequent tweet: “We are trying all sources to arrange for oxygen cylinders urgently and our appeal has unfortunately been misinterpreted, for which we are sorry.”