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Centre may probe oxygen hoarding in Delhi

Undue delays – 24 hours to 54 hours -- have been reported in decanting of oxygen tankers or containers in Delhi, which is suspicious and also a matter of concern
By Rajeev Jayaswal, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 09, 2021 03:22 AM IST
A man waits to refill oxygen cylinders for Covid-19 patients at a centre in New Delhi on Friday.(AFP)

The government may institute a probe against hoarding and black marketing of medical oxygen amid reports of its diversion, and also audit the demand and supply situation in Delhi as inordinate delays in unloading oxygen in the Capital are affecting the national supply chain, two people with knowledge of matters related to an inter-ministerial empowered group (EG2) said.

Undue delays – 24 hours to 54 hours -- have been reported in decanting of oxygen tankers or containers in Delhi, which is suspicious and also a matter of concern, they said on condition of anonymity. It required proper auditing as unreasonable delays in the turnaround time are affecting the entire supply chain, they added.

EG2, chaired by the industry secretary, is responsible for the availability of essential medical supplies including medical oxygen to affected states. The group consists of senior officers from various ministries and departments including the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW).

“The matter will also be flagged to the proposed National Task Force (NTF),” one of the people quoted above said. The Supreme Court on Saturday formed a 12-member task force to devise an effective and transparent mechanism for allocating medical oxygen across the country. The cabinet secretary will be the convener of the task force.

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The entire supply chain is affected because Delhi is unable to quickly unload oxygen from tankers, the second person said. “Thus, empty tankers are unable to return to their respective production centres as per their schedule, disrupting the entire chain. It is reported that some of the oxygen is being diverted by unscrupulous elements,” he said.

“The turnaround time for oxygen filled tankers arriving from Mundra to Delhi through special Oxygen Express trains is taking 54.15 hours. Tankers arriving from Jamnagar are taking 26.10 hours to 27.30 hours, which is intriguing as the country is facing acute shortage of tankers for transporting medical oxygen,” he said. Normally, it should not take more than 6-7 hours’ time, he added.

The second official said delay in turnaround time for tankers in Delhi is impacting the oxygen supply in other states such as Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.

“The turnaround time can be reduced significantly after proper scrutiny of demand and supply. Hopefully, after the apex court’s direction, an audit of medical oxygen requirement in Delhi, its distribution system and consumption pattern would be possible,” the first official said. According to a PTI report, the top court on Saturday also named a sub-group for carrying out the audit exercise for Delhi’s health infrastructure and allocation of oxygen.

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