Delhi govt, BJP spar over SC-appointed panel’s report on oxygen utilisation

The interim report has indicted the Delhi government over “gross discrepancy” in recording the requirement of medical oxygen by its hospitals, besides inflating the demand by more than five times of its actual consumption between April 29 and May 10
A health worker at a Covid-19 care centre near LNJP hospital in New Delhi. (HT file photo)
A health worker at a Covid-19 care centre near LNJP hospital in New Delhi. (HT file photo)
Updated on Jun 25, 2021 02:10 PM IST
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A political battle has broken out between Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party government and the Bharatiya Janata Party over an interim report submitted by a Supreme Court-appointed panel to conduct oxygen utilisation audit in Delhi that has indicted the Delhi government over “gross discrepancy” in recording the requirement of medical oxygen by its hospitals, besides inflating the demand by more than five times of its actual consumption between April 29 and May 10.

Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said: “The Supreme Court set up an oxygen audit committee. We spoke to members of the committee. They said that they have not approved or signed any report till now. Then what report is it? Where has it come from? I challenge the BJP to get a report which has been signed and approved by the oxygen audit committee.”

The panel is headed by AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria. Its other members are Subodh Yadav, a joint secretary in the Jal Shakti ministry, Dr Sandeep Budhiraja from Max Healthcare, Bhupinder S Bhalla, principal secretary, home, Delhi government, and Sanjay Kumar Singh, the controller of explosives at the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO).

Dr Guleria couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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The BJP was quick to respond to the findings. “It is unbelievable to see that Arvind Kejriwal and Delhi government politicised oxygen supply when Covid was at its peak. This is such petty politics. The data presented by Oxygen Audit Committee in the report is shocking,” party’s national spokesperson Sambit Patra said in a press conference.

“The demand for four times more oxygen was made by the Delhi government, due to which the oxygen tankers remained on the road. Had this oxygen been used in other states, many lives could have been saved. This is a heinous crime committed by Arvind Kejriwal Ji,” he added.

HT has reviewed a copy of the audit sub-group’s report.

The controversial report marks the latest chapter in a long-running spat between the Union government and the Delhi government fought across the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court. The Delhi government’s position, in the arguments in court, held against the backdrop of the raging second wave of the coronavirus disease pandemic in the Capital, was that the Union government was not allocating it enough oxygen. The Centre’s position was that Delhi’s needs were overstated and that the local government wasn’t able to even lift supplies of oxygen that had been allocated to it. With social media filled with pleas of people scrambling for oxygen, the courts had to step in. While the issue was resolved with Delhi finally receiving adequate oxygen, the apex court also constituted an expert panel to look into the usage of the precious medical commodity. The interim findings of the audit sub-group of that panel, now leaked, have become the subject of controversy.

Even in a response in the report itself, the Delhi government describes the panel’s proceedings as “a perfunctory desktop exercise, conducted hurriedly” which resulted in “erroneous entries and even more erroneous conclusions”. Terming the allegation of excess supply “incorrect,” it told the panel that it was “sad and shocking” that the panel arrived as “sweeping conclusions” without lending it an opportunity to explain.

The sub-group was constituted by the Supreme Court-appointed 12-member national task force. The task force was set up by the apex court on May 8 when the bench, led by justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, called for an immediate oxygen utilisation audit in Delhi. At the same time, the bench also directed that Delhi should get 700 metric tonne (MT) of the life-saving medical input every day despite the Union government’s reluctance to give it that much.

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The interim report cited a study conducted by PESO and responses received from 183 hospitals in the national capital regarding their oxygen requirement to observe that while the city government’s statistics claimed actual consumption of oxygen by its hospitals as 1,140 MT, the actual consumption turned out to be just 209 MT after correcting faulty reporting by four city hospitals.

If the Centre-recommended formula for oxygen allotment was employed, the requirement would have been 289 MT and with the Delhi government’s formula, it would have been 391 MT, stated the report.

It noted that four hospitals, Singhal Hospital, Aruna Asaf Ali Government Hospital, ESIC Model Hospital and Liferays Hospital erroneously claimed extremely high oxygen consumption with very few beds, “leading to extremely skewed information and significantly higher oxygen requirement for entire state of Delhi.”

HT has reached out to the hospitals and will update the story once they respond.

The sub-group has added that the oxygen consumption did not go beyond 350 MT on any day between April 29 and May 10. This meant that when Delhi government gave data of 1,140 MT as actual consumption by 183 hospitals, none had reported excess supply.

The panel, which met seven times between May 11 and May 21, recorded in one of its meetings a finding by PESO “that there is a gross discrepancy of about four times in that the actual oxygen consumption claimed of 1140 MT was about four times higher than the calculated consumption by formula for bed- capacity, which is 289 MT.”

On May 13, the sub-group also noted that the actual requirement of oxygen was 332 MT as per bed-occupancy formula of the Centre before it made an interim recommendation to the Supreme Court that 400 MT of daily oxygen with an additional 100 MT per day in exigency reserve should be adequate for the national capital for the time being since the Covid-19 cases have dropped significantly.

The panel further cited a PESO report that contended that actual requirement of Delhi during the peak of second Covid-19 wave was much less than what was demanded, making other states such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir “suffer badly”. The report, prepared after carrying out a study between May 5 and 11, also contended that AAP government was neither auditing its usage of oxygen nor was assessing its realistic demand.

However, the interim report attached documentary replies of the Delhi government to the findings of the sub-group as well as to the PESO report, refuting that the city government ever demanded oxygen in excess of its requirement.

Disagreeing with the formula used by the sub-group to compute oxygen requirement, the Delhi government, in its communication to the panel, said: “The finding that Delhi received excess oxygen is incorrect. Delhi has never received excess oxygen. Only on May 5, it received 730 MT which was more than its requirement. Moreover, the oxygen requirement is dynamic and as soon as Delhi’s requirement decreased, a proactive communication was sent to the Central government restating its current requirement.”

In another letter, it added: “From a perusal of the minutes and the proceedings, it appears to have been a perfunctory desktop exercise, conducted hurriedly, without even conducting an audit of a single institution in true sense... sadly, it is noted that none of the experts actually visited a single institution or interacted with their heads to get first-hand account of the grim realities which were created by supply shortages.”

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The Delhi government also disputed the sub-group’s pro forma on requirement of oxygen as per bed occupancy, saying the sub-group has proceeded on an assumption that only 50% of non-ICU beds used oxygen which was not correct in the context of a respiratory disease like Covid-19.

“The (audit) committee needs to begin with the GNCTD calculation of 568 MT, which is the scientifically modelled and data-driven estimate (arrived at by the Delhi government) and then points out where it feels that our requirements could be higher or lower. This fact cannot be determined through an armchair paper exercise but through an actual survey on the ground.”

It also disputed a minute of the meeting on May 13 when Guleria expressed “anguish” over the fact that the oxygen tankers in Delhi were not able to upload oxygen and were lying idle since oxygen tanks in various hospitals were completely filled.

The Delhi government called Guleria’s observations “strange”, pointing out that several SOS calls had been received for tanker supplies for his own institutions, AIIMS, Delhi. “It is only when the system has stabilised that this strange narrative is finding place in the committee of experts,” it complained.

The Supreme Court is yet to hear this matter after May 6 and the court website, as on Friday, also did not indicate any next date of listing.

Sisodia said: “Such misleading statements and conspiracies are not okay in matters that are subjudice. We are all aware of the oxygen crisis in Delhi and the central government’s failure in oxygen management across the country. Instead of taking the responsibility, the BJP is citing reports that do not exist. The BJP created this report in its headquarters and called it the report of the oxygen audit committee.”

“It is an insult to people who lost their loved ones because of BJP’s oxygen mismanagement. Were the patients, doctors, and hospitals lying? So many parties went to the court – were they all lying? BJP leaders are lying,” said Sisodia.

Abhishek Dey and Malavika PM in Delhi contributed to this story.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021