Kejriwal makes oxygen appeal, chided by PM for airing in-house meeting
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that an acute shortage of oxygen in city hospitals could lead to a “big tragedy”, and requested him to order states to not obstruct passage of tankers, but received flak from Modi for publicly broadcasting the closed-door meeting.
At a meeting of chief ministers of high-caseload states with the PM, Kejriwal apprised Modi about the grim situation in Delhi, where several hospitals have struggled with a deluge of Covid-19 patients and approached the high court or sent out distress messages with only a few hours of supply left.
“PM sir, please, make a phone call to the chief ministers of the states where maximum trucks (oxygen tankers) are being stopped so that oxygen can reach Delhi,” he said.
But the decision to livestream his remarks on Delhi government’s social media channels drew the ire of the central government and Modi, who interrupted Kejriwal to admonish him.
“What is happening is strictly against our protocol and tradition, that some chief minister is live telecasting an in-house meeting,” said the PM. “This is not appropriate, we should always maintain restraint,” he added.
Kejriwal immediately apologised. “We will keep this in mind in the future.”
He later, “If there was any mistake if I said anything harsh or in my conduct , I apologise.”
The meeting came amid a record surge in infections in the national capital that has overrun hospitals, crematoriums and graveyards. Hospitals have been struggling to deal with a flood of Covid-19 patients and have repeatedly sent out SOS messages over depleting oxygen supplies.
Two days ago, the Delhi high court issued instructions to ensure seamless supply of oxygen after a prominent hospital said it had only hours of supply left, and the Union ministry of home affairs invoked the Disaster Management Act for the unobstructed passage of oxygen, but the crisis has persisted with more institutions approaching the judiciary with the same problem on Friday.
The controversy over Delhi government’s decision to live telecast Kejriwal’s remarks refused to die down hours after the meeting was over. Central government officials told news agency ANI that the chief minister played politics at the meeting. “Kejriwal has descended to a new low. For the first time, the private conversations of the PM’s meeting with CMs were televised,” officials told ANI.
But the CM’s office defended itself, saying it did not receive any direction from the Prime Minister’s Office stating that such interactions cannot be telecast live.
“Today, the CM’s address was shared live because there has never been any instruction, written or verbal, from the central government that the said interaction could not be shared live. There have been multiple occasions of similar interactions where matters of public importance, which had no confidential information, were shared live. However, if any inconvenience was caused we highly regret that,” read the statement.
The other chief ministers who attended the meeting including Uddhav Thackeray (Maharashtra), Captain Amarinder Singh (Punjab), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan) and Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala.
During the meeting, Kejriwal told Modi that a big tragedy could happen in Delhi, and urged him to engage the army to ensure safe and unobstructed passage of oxygen tankers from plants to destinations.
Kejriwal also requested the PM to introduce a “one nation, one rate” policy for Covid-19 vaccination procurement, instead of differential pricing for the Centre and the states. He was referring to an announcement by Serum Institute of India (SII) — which manufactures Covishield — that it will sell its vaccine for ₹400 to state governments and ₹600 to private hospitals.SII sells doses to the Union government for ₹150. The Centre has decided to open the vaccination drive to all adults, and allow manufacturers to sell 50% of their product directly to the states and private hospitals.
On the oxygen shortage issue, Kejriwal demanded that the Centre appoint a contact person who could resolve transportation issues faced by Delhi with the neighbouring states such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
“People are in major pain due to oxygen shortage. We fear a big tragedy may happen due to oxygen shortage and we will never be able to forgive ourselves. I request you with folded hands to direct all CMs to ensure smooth movement of oxygen tankers coming to Delhi,” he said.
The CM suggested that the central government draft a national plan to deal with the crisis.
“We need a national plan to deal with the crisis. The central government should take over all oxygen plants through the army and every tanker coming out of the oxygen plant should be accompanied by an Army escort vehicle,” he said.
“I thank you for giving me this platform today. But, I want to know whom do I call in the central government if hospitals run out of oxygen? If states are blocking oxygen supply to Delhi, whom can I call? The situation has become very serious and we cannot leave our people to die without doing anything,” Kejriwal said.
He further requested the Centre to help airlift around 100MT of oxygen allocated to Delhi from far-flung states of Odisha and West Bengal. “The oxygen supply scheduled to come to Delhi from Odisha and West Bengal should either be airlifted or brought through the oxygen express started by the Centre,” he said.
To this, the PM said oxygen express was not an “idea” as it was already running. Kejriwal said none of these oxygen express trains were destined for Delhi, and urged that such trains be made available for the Capital as well.
Dr SP Byotra, chairman of the department of internal medicine at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital said there should be no politics around oxygen and that the focus should be around streamlining the logistics.
“The wait for a oxygen tanker for us at the hospital becomes unbearable as emotions run high with patients’ relatives pleading and panicking. We are all trying out best. Every hospital is trying to optimise the utilisation of whatever oxygen supply they are getting. But, efficient and timely transportation actually needs to be seriously looked into,” he said.